Police Question 12 in Kenya Bombing - Somali Group Linked to al Qaeda Among Top Suspects, U.S. Official Says (WASHINGTON POST) MOMBASA, Kenya 11/30/02 Page A20)
WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-Top
MOMBASA, Kenya, Nov. 29 -- Kenyan police questioned a dozen suspects
today in connection with Thursday´s twin attacks on Israeli targets
around this seaside city, seeking to establish who was responsible
for the apparently coordinated attacks.
U.S. sources here said not enough evidence had been gathered to
apportion blame for the suicide bombing of the Paradise Hotel near
Mombasa -- which killed 16 people, including the bombers, and injured
40 -- or the unsuccessful attempt to bring down an Israeli airliner
with two shoulder-fired missiles. But as Kenyan and Israeli officials
continued to suggest that the attacks were the work of Osama bin
Laden´s al Qaeda organization, a senior administration official in
Washington said a Somali group with links to al Qaeda ranked high on
the list of suspects.
Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, whose links to al Qaeda date to the early
1990s, was placed on the U.S. government´s list of terrorist groups
shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon. Last year, the Treasury Department said an Islamic
banking organization that handled al Qaeda funds employed al-Ittihad
members in Somalia and funneled money to the organization.
While cautioning that there is no hard evidence yet pointing to the
perpetrators of Thursday´s bombing, the U.S. official said al Qaeda
has "highlighted and saluted" al-Ittihad and "its worldview mirrors
al Qaeda´s in general."
Police today uncovered another body in the charred ruins of the
Paradise Hotel on the Indian Ocean beachfront, raising the number of
dead there to 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three unidentified
bombers, who crashed a four-wheel-drive vehicle laden with explosives
into the hotel lobby at 8:30 a.m. Thursday -- five minutes after two
antiaircraft missiles narrowly missed an Israeli Boeing 757 as it
took off from Mombasa´s airport bound for Tel Aviv.
A previously unknown Palestinian group -- the Government of Universal
Palestine in Exile, the Army of Palestine -- claimed responsibility
for the attacks. But involvement by bin Laden and al Qaeda, blamed
for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August
1998, was widely suggested today.
Although Israeli authorities said they had no solid evidence linking
al Qaeda to the attacks, one senior official said: "Because of the
pattern, it could be al Qaeda. If so, it´s the first time Israel has
been a target."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Thursday that "our long
arm will catch the attackers and those who dispatch him," but Israeli
officials said today that their security agencies do not plan to
extend their investigations of al Qaeda beyond the Kenyan attacks.
"We will be happy to cooperate with America, but I don´t think we
want an all-out war with al Qaeda," the senior Israeli official
said. "We have enough on our plates."
Israeli army radio, citing unspecified Arab media, identified one of
the suspects in the Kenya attacks as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah; a man
by that name has been indicted in the United States for the 1998
embassy bombings. However, Kenyan police and U.S. sources said they
were unaware of the information.
A team of Israeli forensic experts arrived in Mombasa today to help
Kenyan police reconstruct the bombers´ vehicle, a green Mitsubishi
Pajero. Police recovered a license plate, which could help determine
the identities of the bombers, Kenyan Police Commissioner Philemon
Police also said investigators found a launcher for an SA-7 Strela, a
Soviet-designed shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile, and two missile
casings in the Changamwe area of Mombasa, about a mile from Moi
The two missiles fired at the Arkia Israeli Airlines plane missed
their target, and Israeli media reports speculated today that the
airliner may have used decoy flares similar to those employed by
combat aircraft to divert attacks. Some passengers on the plane
reported hearing a small explosion or feeling a small jolt near the
plane at the time of the attack.
The Israeli air force commander, Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz, told reporters
that such countermeasures are available but are "not installed on
most commercial aircraft, only on select ones."
Israeli media also reported that one of the two Boeing 757-300 planes
in the Arkia fleet was used by Sharon last spring on his state visit
to Washington. Officials declined to say whether the plane involved
in Thursday´s attack was the one Sharon used.
Few details were available about the 12 people questioned by police.
Two were described as a husband and wife -- one of whom carried an
American passport -- who checked out of the Le Soleil Beach Club 90
minutes after the bombing, said Ben Wafula, the manager of the hotel.
But U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources said the two were not
suspects and would be released soon.
The others were identified only as six Somalis and four Pakistanis,
according to news services.
"Immediately after the incident we detained those for interrogation,
and I feel they could give us useful information," said Abongo, the
police commissioner, who said that some were brought in for
questioning because they didn´t have identification papers and were
In Australia, the government said today that it had received
intelligence warnings two weeks ago of a threat in Mombasa and had
urged its nationals then not to go there, news services reported.
Ninety Australians were among the 185 people killed on Oct. 12 on the
Indonesian island of Bali in bombings blamed on Islamic extremists.
"This advice was based on intelligence information that warned of
possible terrorist attacks against Western interests in Mombasa,"
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a statement. "Australia had
no specific information about the timing, location or method of the
Sources in this predominantly Muslim resort city said they were also
investigating an Islamic school called Majis M. Islamya, where
Africans from Kenya and neighboring countries were being converted to
Islam and were being offered trips to the Middle East. Officials at
the school, about a mile from the Paradise Hotel, refused to comment.
Four years after the embassy bombings, Thursday´s attacks revived
fears that East Africa remains fertile ground for Islamic militants
seeking willing accomplices and easy targets. With its deep poverty
and porous borders, some intelligence officials say, the region could
be a major blind spot in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. As a result
of such concerns, the United States has positioned thousands of
troops along the coast of Kenya and set up an anti-terrorist task
force in Djibouti, 1,200 miles north in the Horn of Africa.
Thursday´s attacks also rekindled resentment among many here that, as
Kenya becomes embroiled in struggles among outside forces, Kenyans
are the ones suffering the consequences.
At Mombasa´s Pandya Memorial Hospital, Miriam Mkumbi sat on the bare
floor beside her sister Asher, who was badly cut by flying glass in
the hotel bombing, and wondered aloud why she and other Kenyan
Muslims had to be drawn into a fight that was not theirs.
"It´s very hurtful that the relations between the Israelis and the
Palestinians have to hurt all Muslims," she said. "We are Kenyans. We
don´t even care about those things, but they come and do this to us."
Across the city, Ale Benzair, 20, said he was upset that the bombers
did not kill as many Israelis as they intended and that most of the
dead were Kenyans. "People lost their lives, Africans lost their
lives, and I don´t think that is right," Benzair said. "But some
people love Osama because they believe in what he is saying that what
is happening in Israel is wrong."
About 235 Israelis vacationing in the seaside resorts that dot the
beaches around Mombasa were taken home today in military planes,
along with a seriously injured Kenyan woman who was airlifted to
Israel for surgery.
At the same time, Israeli doctors and aid workers were flown in with
blood and medical supplies -- the same team that came to Nairobi
after the 1998 embassy bombing. "Unfortunately, we have a lot of
experience when it comes to this," said Gilad Millo, a spokesman for
the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who was at the scene of the
bombing. "And it does not look like it is going away."
As Israeli flags were taken down and crime-scene tape with Hebrew
lettering was erected around the charred ruin that had been the
Paradise Hotel, more details emerged about Thursday´s events.
The three men in the car appeared to be of Arab descent and were seen
driving up and down the unpaved road in front of the hotel about 8:15
a.m., said Nicholas Maweu, a manager at the Calipso Hotel, across the
road. They sat about 100 yards from the hotel for a few minutes, he
said, and then sped toward the entry gate.
Justin Mundu, 57, was the security guard in the booth at the gate
when the sport-utility vehicle came crashing through. "It happened so
fast," Mundu said. "I heard this bang. Then I heard a loud bang, and
then dust and smoke and people screaming. They came right through the
Mundu said hotel regulations required that every visitor, even the
hotel´s owner, sign in at the gate and that he had been warned not to
let Arab-looking men in at all. The bombers, he said, never stopped
asked to ask permission.
Pincus reported from Washington. Correspondent Molly Moore in
Jerusalem contributed to this report.
(© 2002 The Washington Post Company 11/30/02)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY