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US Suspects Somali Group, Al Qaeda for Kenya Blast (REUTERS) By Deborah Charles WASHINGTON 11/29/02 01:43 PM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=5KXE4HA0I1544CRBAEKSFFA?type=topNews&storyID=1827380 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda and a Somali-based Islamist group were the prime suspects in bomb and missile attacks on Israeli tourists in Kenya, U.S. officials said on Friday. "At this point it is not clear who is responsible -- it´s too early," one U.S. official said a day after suicide bombers killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa.

But he said at the top of the list of suspects is the Somali-based Islamic extremist group Al-Itihad al-Islamiya, known also as AIAI or as the Islamic Union. The official said al-Itihad, which is on the United States´ "terrorist" watch list, was a prominent radical Islamist group in the Horn of Africa. "They also possess ties to al Qaeda," he said.

Al Qaeda, the group linked to Osama bin Laden, is also among the top suspects. The United States blames al Qaeda and bin Laden for the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airline attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed about 3,000 people.

President Bush condemned the attacks on Thursday but White House officials cautioned it was too soon to blame al Qaeda. U.S. experts were helping in the investigation into the bombing.

Analysts have said the synchronized attacks were a hallmark of al Qaeda´s operations. Just minutes before suicide bombers drove a car into the lobby of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, missiles were fired at a plane full of Israeli tourists taking off nearby.

"The pattern could fit al Qaeda or one of the standard groups that attack Israel," another administration official said. "They have in the past attacked Israeli interests outside the Middle East."

Some analysts who believe al Qaeda was responsible for the Kenya bloodshed say the attacks -- the first directly aimed at Israelis -- were intended to rally Muslim support.

LINKS BETWEEN SOMALI GROUP AND AL QAEDA

In its 2001 report on Global Terrorism, the State Department defined al-Itihad as Somalia´s largest militant Islamic organization, which rose to power in the early 1990s.

It said the group, which aims to create an Islamic regime in Somalia, usually utilized "insurgent-style attacks" against Ethiopian forces and other Somali factions.

Analysts say that in the mid 1990s the group was the main militant Islamist political movement in the Horn of Africa. It was active, sometimes militarily, in parts of Somalia and ethnic Somali areas of Ethiopia.

The group claimed a series of bomb attacks in Ethiopia in the mid- 1990s and had links to secessionist guerrilla groups among Ethiopia´s Oromo and Ethiopian Somali communities.

But in recent years, the group has shrunk in size, ended most military activity and many former leaders are now concentrating on business or other areas.

Two or three top al-Itihad leaders believed by some U.S. officials to have had links to al Qaeda have disappeared since the Sept. 11 attacks and are believed to be in hiding. (© Reuters 2002 11/29/02)


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