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Survivor Saw Bombers´ Race to Death (NY TIMES) By DEXTER FILKINS and MARC LACEY MOMBASA, Kenya 11/30/02) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/30/international/africa/30MOMB.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
MOMBASA, Kenya, Nov. 28 — Justin Mundu, a soft-spoken guard at the gate outside the Paradise Hotel, figured something was wrong when he spotted a white Toyota Pajero racing past the hotel in reverse.

Mr. Mundu, who narrowly survived the suicide truck bomb attack Thursday, stood outside the smoldering ruins of the hotel today and recalled how he first spotted the white Pajero, which he and investigators believe was driven by suicide bombers. First it drove past the hotel in normal fashion, rumbling forward and then out of sight. Then, suddenly, about 15 minutes later, it came racing by in reverse.

"Full speed backward," Mr. Mundu said.

As soon as it passed the hotel gate the second time, Mr. Mundu said, it stopped and went forward again — this time crashing through the guard gate and plunging toward the hotel lobby, which was then filled with Kenyans performing a dance for a group of Israeli tourists.

Within seconds, the Toyota had exploded, killing the 3 people believed to be inside as well 3 Israeli tourists and 10 Kenyans. All that remained today was a tiny husk of blackened metal half-buried amid the charred remnants of the hotel.

"I should have paid closer attention," said Mr. Mundu, standing in front of a crowd of onlookers as Israeli and Kenyan police officials sifted through the rubble. "When I saw the car driving backward, I should have realized that something was not right."

When the vehicle exploded, Mr. Mundu said, he dived for cover, but not before seeing a friend cut in half by a piece of flying metal.

To appreciate how remarkable Mr. Mundu´s survival was, all one needed to do was survey the remains of the hotel. Burned clothing, shattered windows and roofless rooms were scattered about the grounds.

"I don´t know how it is that I am standing here talking to you," Mr. Mundu said. "It´s a miracle."

He recalled yelling at the vehicle as it rushed the gate and even chasing after it as it sped toward the lobby.

While he was unable to stop it, he did manage to get a good look at the driver.

"Definitely not a local man — probably an Arab or an Asian," he said. "And wearing a red shirt."

Principal among the unanswered questions in the attack was, of course, who carried it out. Most local leaders here tried, like Mr. Mundu, to emphasize that the attackers were foreigners. Some officials theorized that the attack could not have been mounted without local help.

"Obviously the attackers lived among the people in this town," said Emilio Mwai Kibaki, a presidential candidate who visited the site. "Obviously, they had help."

Indeed, many people at the blast site today demonstrated a hostile attitude toward Israel and the Israeli tourists who filled the Paradise Hotel. Many said they had seen television reports showing Israeli soldiers mistreating the Palestinians, fellow Muslims whose plight many people here believe the world has ignored.

"There is a definite sympathy here for the Palestinians, and an anger toward the Israelis," said Fahim Taha, a former member of Parliament. "The Israelis are seen as the aggressors."

But any of those working or living near the attack site spoke fondly of the Israeli visitors.

People found the visitors "very friendly," said Nicholas Maweu, the accountant at the Calypso Bar across the street, which has welcome signs in Hebrew out front. "The same ones kept coming back. We knew their names."

At Mr. Maweu´s bar, most of the music played over the stereo was from Israel. Employees have picked up some Hebrew to better connect with the guests. Tonight, the bar was empty and the only activity was the journalists covering the attack.

"I can count to 10 and I know that shalom is peace," Mr. Maweu said. "I hope they come back. If they don´t we´re finished."

In Msumarini, a small village just up the road, people were also wondering how they would now survive.

Residents from craft makers to tour guides to traditional dancers all said it was the busloads of tourists who arrived week after week that kept many families afloat.

Five of the dead were members of Sounds of Africa, the dance troupe that was performing when the attack occurred. Asha Abudu, the widow of one dancer, wept as villagers began back-to-back burials.

"They are only talking about the dead Israelis," said Ms. Abudu, the mother of eight. "What about my husband, my family?"

Another widow, Aisha Yaa, who is expecting her 10th child, bemoaned how much her family would suffer now that her husband was dead and the hotel destroyed.

"We don´t know what will happen to us now," she said.

Israeli security agents took over the crime scene today, draping the front gate with police tape covered in Hebrew script. It was a scene all too common to Israelis, but local residents struggled to make sense of it.

"I was born in Mombasa and apart from some election violence it´s always been a peaceful place," said Bakari Yusuf Ba, a Muslim businessman. "People walk around at night. We leave our doors unlocked."

In Mr. Ba´s opinion, no place is completely safe anymore. "Terrorists are looking all over the world for targets and we were the target this time," he said. "I don´t think it had to do with Mombasa. These terrorists want to destabilize the world and that´s why we were hit." (Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 11/30/02)


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