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Kenyans Hold 12 in Israeli Hotel Attack

Kenyans Hold 12 in Israeli Hotel Attack

Author: Matthew Rosenberg
Publication: Associated Press
Date: November 29, 2002

With Israeli and American authorities casting suspicion on al-Qaida or its allies, Kenyan authorities investigating the twin assaults on Israeli targets there focused quickly on foreign suspects, reporting Friday they had arrested six Pakistanis, four Somalis, an American and a Spaniard.

Al-Qaida carried out almost simultaneous bombings to the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 231 people - including 12 Americans - and injured about 5,000.

Police spokesman King'ori Mwangi said police picked up nine of the foreigners on an Indian Ocean beach in the Mombasa area Friday morning. He declined to say if those suspects were attempting to leave the country by boat.

Mwangi also said all but two of the suspects in custody were traveling on what he termed "suspicious" passports, perhaps alluding to Somalia where it is possible to obtain a travel document in less than an hour. The lawless country has not had a functioning government for more than a decade and is believed to be a refuge for some al-Qaida operatives.

Two shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles were launched against an Israeli charter jet leaving Mombasa airport Thursday morning, narrowly missing the Arika Airlines Boeing 757 with 261 passengers and 10 crew members. It landed safely in Tel Aviv with no casualties.

A few minutes later a vehicle packed with explosives broke through the gate at the oceanside Paradise Hotel. One attacker ran into the lobby and blew himself up, while two others exploded the vehicle. The bombs killed 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three bombers.

The American woman and a Spanish man were taken into custody about 90 minutes after the bombing Thursday, but may have mistakenly been caught in the police dragnet, sources close to the investigation said.

But a top police official suggested otherwise.

"Immediately after the incident we detained two people for interrogation, arising from the information they gave us ... by this morning, we were able to also detain 10 people," Police Commissioner Philemon Abong'o told reporters.

The American and the Spaniard, believed traveling as husband and wife, were arrested as they checked out of a hotel near to the one that was hit by the suicide attackers.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen confirmed that an American woman, and a Spanish man with U.S. resident status and believed to be her husband, were being detained. He declined to identify the pair.

A police source, however, named the woman as Alicia Kalhammer who was said to have used a Florida address when she checked into Le Soleil Beach Club, 3 miles from the Paradise Hotel, on Nov. 26. The source was unable to identify the man because the couple checked in under Kalhammer's name.

In Washington, initial suspicion centered on two groups: al-Qaida and al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a Somali Islamic group suspected of having links to bin Laden's network, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday. It is also possible the two groups were working together, the official said.

Simultaneous attacks, like those on the airliner and hotel, are an al-Qaida trademark, officials said, also noting that bin Laden's recent audio message threatened Israelis. Over the last year, U.S. intelligence has detected signs al-Qaida was looking to strike in the Horn of Africa, the official said.

All of these groups have access to the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that were launched at the airliner, officials said. Those missiles are easy to obtain on the international arms market.

Officials said it appeared the two missiles were fired by someone standing in a gully next to the airfield. A white four-wheel drive vehicle had been parked at the spot about 1 mile the airfield, police said.

They recovered missile launchers and two missile casings, a government statement said. There was no official information on the kind of missile used, but reports in the Israeli press suggested it could have been a Russian-made Strela shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile.

The Daily Nation newspaper reported that investigators were examining possible links between the attacks and five Pakistanis and two Somalis detained Monday near the port of Mombasa after they were found with Somali passports all issued on the same day in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Mwangi refused to comment on the reports.

The previously unknown Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks. But Palestinian officials denied that any Palestinian group was involved, and Kenyan and Israeli officials have said they suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was behind the attacks.

U.S. officials said it is too soon to link any specific al-Qaida operatives to the plot. Several key al-Qaida figures charged in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings remain at large, including Saif al-Adil, bin Laden's security chief, and Abu Mohamed al-Masri, a top trainer and operational planner who is also known as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah.

The leader of an militant Islamic organization in London said he had been aware of threats against East Africa for several days.

Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, head of Al-Muhajiroun, said unspecified warnings had been posted on Web sites and on Internet chat rooms.

"The warning has been sent to the Muslim community around the world ... that Israel would pay a heavy price in East Africa," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The hotel attack was a grim reminder of the bombing last month of a disco on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in which more than 190 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has put the Mossad spy agency in charge of investigating Thursday's attacks.

The Israeli army sent a team of 150 doctors, psychologists, and soldiers to Kenya's Indian Ocean coast - a popular tourist destination - after the attacks.

Gilad Millo, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said 235 Israeli tourists, including 15 injured in the blast, flew home Friday. The bodies of the three Israelis killed in the attack were also onboard the evacuation flight.

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