Officials- Kenyan coast attack, embassy bombing may be linked
Saturday, March 22, 2003
MOMBASA, Kenya -- Investigators are looking for a young African Islamic teacher they believe was an architect of both the Nov. 28 terrorist attacks on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast and the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings that killed 224 people, sources say.
It is the clearest indication yet of a link between the two sets of attacks -- and a chilling example of just how deep al-Qaida's roots run in East Africa.
The suspect has been identified as Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a fugitive al-Qaida operative charged in the embassy bombings, by his wife from photos on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list, according to sources close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI describes Fazul, a slight man in his late 20s or early 30s, as a computer whiz who speaks many languages including French, Arabic and English.
Born in the Comoros Islands off the coast of Mozambique, he also carries a Kenyan passport and is said to have trained with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the Nov. 28 suicide bombing of a hotel crowded with Israelis as well as the simultaneous missile attack on an Israeli tourist jet as it took off from Mombasa airport. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.
Detective Joseph Narangwi, a senior member of the investigation, confirmed that police "believe some of the suspects who are being sought by police for the 1998 bombings have links with the Nov. 28 attacks."
He would not say if Fazul was one of them but added that investigators, including U.S. personnel, continue to "conclusively connect" the attacks.
U.S. officials in the capital, Nairobi, refused to comment, but a State Department official in Washington said it was logical to assume those behind the attacks are connected.
"There's the same pattern of action," said the official, who did not want to be named.
The U.S. indictment charging Fazul in the 1998 attack on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania says he spent time in Somalia, believed to be a haven for terrorists.
On Wednesday, Kenyan police said they were holding a suspected member of al-Qaida for questioning about several terrorist attacks in East Africa. The suspect, who was seized Tuesday in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia, was not identified. Police gave no further details.
Fazul's whereabouts are unknown but until recently he was teaching at an Islamic school in the coastal district of Lamu, where he went by the name of Abdul Karim.
Largely isolated, Lamu is predominantly Muslim and many residents are of Arab descent. Somalia is nearby and boats often arrive in Lamu from the Persian Gulf.
Abdul Karim disappeared shortly after he married Amina, a local teenage girl, on Dec. 30.
Mohamed Kubwa, Amina's half-brother, has no doubts the young man is Fazul. Kubwa, who denies involvement in the attacks, has repeatedly been questioned by police in recent weeks. He was picked up again Monday, along with his father, Kubwa Mohamed, and remained in custody Friday.
Police say Abdul Karim is a suspect, Kubwa told The Associated Press recently. "In fact, they say he was involved in the 1998 bombing."
Police also showed Mohamed Kubwa photographs of other suspects wanted in the 1998 attack. He said he had met two of them in Mombasa and called them Sheikh and Fahad.
Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan and Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam have been indicted in the 1998 bombings and are fugitives. Both were born in Mombasa.
It was Abdul Karim's cell phone that led police to Kubwa and his relatives.
After tracing calls made to and from a phone that turned out to be the one Abdul Karim left with Amina, police questioned Mohamed Kubwa, his father and his sister, Swalha -- who ended up with the phone.
When Swalha had the phone, she received a number of international calls from unknown people speaking Arabic, Kubwa said.
The Kubwa family first met Abdul Karim about a year ago through a cousin, Abud Rogo, Kubwa said. He became a volunteer teacher at Nahdha Islamic school and stayed as a guest at the father's home in Siyu, a town on Pate Island off the coast.
In 1997, it was Rogo, an Islamic preacher from Mtwapa, 15 miles north of Mombasa, who introduced Mohamed Kubwa to Sheikh and Fahad, he said. Kubwa said he saw the pair once or twice.
Rogo could not be located; police said they don't know where he was.
"We are looking for many people, and he could be one of them," Matthew Kabetu, the head of Kenya's recently formed police anti-terrorism unit, said.
Kubwa, who spends most of his time in Mombasa, said no members of Abdul Karim's family were present at the hastily arranged wedding at a mosque in Siyu.
"He's someone who takes his religion very seriously, does not like music, does not like ladies without their faces covered," Kubwa said. "He was very secretive, very contained ... he was isolated and isolated himself from gatherings."
Kubwa said his family still doesn't know where Abdul Karim is from; all they know is that he had relatives in Mombasa's Tudor neighborhood -- the place where police believe the car bomb used in the Nov. 28 hotel attack was built.
Some of the calls investigators traced to Abdul Karim's cell phone were made by Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, sources close to the investigation said.
Nabhan is one of eight suspects sought by police in the Nov. 28 attacks.