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Two attacks target Israelis in Kenya - Fatal bombing at Mombasa hotel; missiles barely miss aircraft (MSNBC NEWS SERVICE) MOMBASA, Kenya 11/28/02)Source: http://www.msnbc.com/news/840985.asp?0cv=CA01 MSNBC MSNBC Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
MOMBASA, Kenya, Nov. 28 — In simultaneous attacks, a car bomb exploded Thursday at a hotel frequented by Israelis, killing 12 people in addition to three suicide bombers, while at least two missiles were fired at — but missed — an Israeli charter jet that had just departed this popular destination for tourists and trade. A little-known group called the “Government of Universal Palestine in Exile, Army of Palestine” claimed responsibility.

THE GROUP said it carried out attacks on Israelis in Kenya to mark the anniversary of the 1947 United Nations resolution partitioning Palestine between Arabs and Jews. In a statement faxed to Reuters, the previously unheard-of group said it had sent two groups of attackers to Kenya to “make the world hear once again the voice of Palestinian refugees, and to cast light on Zionist terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza.”

It said the attacks were intended to mark the 55th anniversary of “the ill-fated (U.N.) resolution to partition Palestine tomorrow, November 29, 2002” and followed “the accusation of terrorism against courageous resistance movements in occupied Palestine and Lebanon.”

It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

The bombing occurred at about 8 a.m. at the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, 15 miles north of Mombasa, said Col. Bonventur Wendo, director of Kenya’s National Disaster Center.

Kenya’s internal security minister, Julius Sunkuli, said 15 were killed and 80 wounded in the suicide attack according to initial indications.

Police say a green all-terrain vehicle packed with explosives rammed through the gate of the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala. Witnesses say one man jumped out and blew himself up inside the hotel, while the others detonated the vehicle out front.

A police spokesman said the dead included nine Kenyans, two Israeli children and an Israeli man.

Yoav Biran, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director general, said the death toll from the hotel attack could rise.

“We aren’t sure this is the end, and there are quite a number of Israelis injured,” Biran said.

Arab TV and Israeli media identified two of the apparent terrorists as Abdallah Ahmed Adallah, an Egyptian, and Fayed al Hassan, who held a Kenyan passport.

Kenyan authorities have held two people in connection with the suicide bomb attack, Kenya’s internal security minister said.

Sunkuli told Reuters: “We are holding two people and we are still questioning them. ... We suspect them. They were in the vicinity of this area, and we don’t know what they were doing here. Police are still investigating.”

Sunkuli did not disclose the nationality of the two.

MISSILES MISS FLIGHT

The Boeing 757, which belongs to Israel’s Arkia airline, had just taken off from Mombasa airport when the pilot saw a flash of light to his left, said Arkia official Shlomo Hanael. There were no injuries aboard the plane, which carried about 260 passengers and 10 crew members.

The pilot initially prepared for an emergency landing in Nairobi, Kenya, to check whether the plane was damaged, but after consultations with Israeli officials, it was decided to fly directly to Israel, Israel TV’s Channel Two said. Hanael said there was no damage to the plane.

Rafi Marik, a captain with private Israeli airline company Arkia, said after landing in Tel Aviv that the airliner had reached an altitude of 500 feet when the missiles closed in.

“We spotted two white smoke trails passing us on the left side, from the rear to the front, and disappearing after a few seconds,” Marik told reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport. Asked how close the missiles came, he said: “Not very far.”

He would not comment on what sort of missiles were fired, but Israeli media reports identified them as Soviet-era SAM-7 heat-seeking missiles.

Police said the missiles were fired from a white all-terrain vehicle about two kilometers (one mile) from the airport. Three or four Arab- looking men were seen leaving the area in the van, police said. Investigators found two missile casings near the airport but had made no arrest.

It was not immediately clear whether the Arkia flight had access to countermeasures, which are sometimes used by military aircraft to confound missile systems.

Arkia was founded in 1950 as Israel’s second airline; throughout its operating history, it has never had a fatal incident.

A spokesman for El Al, Israel’s largest airline, said that all flights in Israel and around the world would depart and arrive as scheduled on Thursday. While generally considered to be some of the most stringent in the world, Israeli airline security was shaken since the Sept. 11 attacks by several incidents on El Al in which passengers have carried weapons on board.

AL-QAIDA SUSPECTED

Despite the unconfirmed claim of responsibility, officials in several nations named al-Qaida as the primary suspect in the attacks.

A senior U.S. official said there was no firm evidence of al-Qaida’s role, but the attack had several marks of an al-Qaida operation: the combined use of technology and suicide tactics, apparently detailed planning of multiple attacks against a single target, and the use of a locale familiar to al-Qaida.

“They keep coming back to the same target.” the official said.

Kenya has a solid diplomatic relationship with Israel and cooperated fully with the United States in the investigation of the al-Qaida embassy bombing attacks. Kenya turned suspects over to U.S. authorities, shuttered Islamic charities and allowed FBI agents free rein in the investigation. In return, the United States supplied the Kenyans with advanced law enforcement training and technology.

John Sawe, the Kenyan ambassador to Israel, told NBC News that his “personal gut feeling was that Al-Qaida is responsible,” but stressed that his government had not made any official assessment. He had earlier been quoted as saying there was “no doubt” the terror network was behind the strikes.

“This (today) looks like another orchestrated attack. Indications are it is another wake-up call from hell by al-Qaida,” said a senior Israeli diplomatic source.

Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the missile attack “a very dangerous escalation of terror.”

“It means that terror organizations and the regimes behind them are able to arm themselves with weapons which can cause mass casualties anywhere and everywhere,” Netanyahu said.

“Today, they’re firing the missiles at Israeli planes, tomorrow they’ll fire missiles at American planes, British planes, every country’s aircraft. Therefore, there can be no compromise with terror.”

Reports earlier this week said U.S. officials had met on Nov. 5 with 25 airline officials on the possibility that al-Qaida operatives had brought shoulder-launched missiles into the United States for attacks on U.S. airliners. But that concern was not based on specific indications the missiles were in the United States, senior intelligence officials told NBC News.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The United States deplores this violence. We stand ready to offer the Kenyans and the Israelis assistance in this investigation.”

The United States blamed al-Qaida for two 1998 truck bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam in which 224 people were killed and thousands injured.

It launched retaliatory missile attacks on al-Qaida bases soon after those bombings. Al-Qaida was blamed again for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 and ignited the U.S. “war on terror” and its military campaign against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. But Johndroe warned ”“it is premature to rule al-Qeida in or out in relation to these attacks.”

Kenya’s coastal area has a large Muslim population with traditional links to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

INTERNET CHAT WARNING

A Muslim cleric who supports Osama bin Laden said on Thursday that Islamic militant groups sympathetic to al-Qaida warned of an attack on Kenya one week ago on Internet chat rooms and in emails.

“Militant groups who sympathize with al-Qaida warned one week ago that there would be an attack on Kenya and they mentioned Israelis,” said Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the radical London-based al Muhajiroun group.

“They said in chat rooms that there would be something good in East Africa, that a heavy price would be paid,” he told Reuters.

Bakri said the militants who spoke of an attack on Kenya on the Internet did not identify themselves but said they were mujahideen (Islamic fighters) who support al-Qaida.

“They were taking part in discussions and they sent emails,” he said.

Bakri said he was not a member of al-Qaida but supported the group, bin Laden and his Taliban allies in Afghanistan. MSNBC.com’s Jennifer Carlile and Jon Bonné; NBC News’ Robert Windrem, Wendy Fastman and Gila Grossman; The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.(MSNBC © 2002 11/28/02)


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