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Kenya Denies Ignored Alerts Ahead of Attacks (REUTERS) By Manoah Esipisu MOMBASA, Kenya 12/03/02 11:32 AM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=1843785 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya denied on Tuesday allegations by intelligence sources that it failed to act on security warnings before the Mombasa bombings and had ignored information that al Qaeda suspects had infiltrated from Somalia.

A senior Kenyan military intelligence official told Reuters foreign intelligence services including those of Britain and Australia had warned the east African country to be on guard for infiltration of al Qaeda supporters from its lawless northern neighbor for possible attacks in the Indian Ocean coast region.

"They all (Kenyan security services) got that information. They were told to look out for specific individuals and to monitor the border with Somalia more closely," he said.

"The information we were given was that the threat was related to al Qaeda, that al Qaeda people were involved."

"Little or no action was taken to prevent the attacks," the military official said.

Kenyan and Israeli officials blame Osama bin Laden´s al Qaeda for the suicide bombing of a hotel near the coastal city of Mombasa last week in which 16 people -- nine Kenyans, three Israelis, three bombers and one unidentified person -- were killed and for a failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner.

However, a statement from the Kenyan presidency said the government had acted on any information it had obtained.

"The government would like to state that any security information received was promptly acted upon and this resulted in the arrest of several suspects, some of whom were taken to court and deported for illegally being in Kenya."

Asked to comment on the military intelligence official´s allegations, Kenyan Vice President Musalia Mudavadi told Reuters he treated such reports with caution.

"Terrorism is something that is not easy to handle. We´ve had cases where people may say there is a strike and it doesn´t turn up," Mudavadi said.

"It is unfortunate the (bombing) incident happened, and we want to carry out a thorough investigation," he said.

Mudavadi said a report in Kenya´s Daily Nation newspaper suggesting that security agencies were warned as much as eight months before the attack quoted only unnamed officials, implying that the information could not be independently verified.

"There are different people making comments, and no government agency has come out officially putting its version of events. I would want to be cautious about this," he said.

SPECIFIC AREAS

Police Commissioner Philemon Abong´o, without saying whether he was warned of the Mombasa bombings, was quoted by the Daily Nation on Tuesday: "Most of the intelligence we get does not identify specific areas targeted by the terrorists."

"The information only refers to Western interests, which is a vague reference because Western governments and individuals have so many interests. We can´t have police officers guarding all those interests on a 24-hour basis," he said.

Security Minister Julius Sunkuli has said the security agencies under his authority -- the police and National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) -- and had received no prior information to do with the Mombasa attacks.

A senior NSIS official declined to comment on the charges.

The senior military intelligence official said that civilian security agencies were warned earlier in 2002 of the planned entry into Kenya of suspected members of al Qaeda, blamed for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kenyan authorities were given information that could have prevented the entry of suspected criminals and were also told to increase security on their border with failed state Somalia.

He said some of the information came from Australian and British intelligence services, which had shared information with Kenya about a possible risk in the coast region, and a possible time-frame for that.

He would not say whether Israel had shared similar warnings on a possible terror assault on Kenya.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Friday that no intelligence was available which could have prevented the missile and bomb attacks in Mombasa.

Diplomats in Nairobi noted Straw made no mention of whether his government had more general information which if made public would have prompted holidaymakers in Kenya to reassess security.

Such a public warning did come from Australia, which issued a travel advisory about the risk of "terrorist" attacks in Kenya, particularly Mombasa, on November 12, two weeks before the attacks.

"Threats against Westerners and Western interests in Mombasa are high," the travel warning said.

A spokesman for the British High Commission said British authorities did not comment on intelligence matters. (© Reuters 2002 12/03/02)


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