Al-Qaida plotted to destroy U.S. Embassy, Kenyans say

Saturday, October 25, 2003

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Al-Qaida operatives planned to destroy the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in June with a truck bomb and a hijacked plane loaded with explosives, a plot described in a Kenya police report seen by The Associated Press on Friday.

The report, based on an interrogation of a terror suspect, could explain why the U.S. Embassy was closed June 20-24 and why Kenyan officials banned flights from June 20-July 8 to and from Somalia, a lawless neighbor and suspected haven for terrorists.

Those actions suggest some knowledge of the plot by U.S. and Kenyan authorities, on alert to terror threats since the 1998 car bombing of the old U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi, which killed 219 people including 12 Americans.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida -- the Islamic terror group that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- claimed responsibility for the embassy attack as well as the deadly bombing of a Kenyan hotel north of Mombasa in 2002. The suspect who described the plot to attack the embassy in June, Salmin Mohammed Khamis, is among six men whose murder trial begins Monday in the hotel attack.

A source close to the trial provided AP with the police report of Khamis's alleged account, taken hours after his June 17 arrest.

A Kenyan prosecutor declined to comment on the plot but confirmed the existence of 164 statements from witnesses and investigators submitted for the trial.

In the police report, Khamis does not comment on the hotel attack, which killed 13 people including three Israelis. Instead, the 27-year-old Kenyan gives an insider's account of the embassy plot, for which he has not been charged.

The interrogation started with Khamis deciphering a coded e-mail from Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a key suspect in the hotel bombing who remains at large.

The e-mail "invited" Khamis to participate in "al-Qaida activities."

Next, Khamis told interrogators he attended a meeting of al-Qaida operatives in May in the coastal town of Malindi. Nabhan was there, as were two unidentified Somalis and one unidentified Arab.

Together, the men hatched the plot to attack the embassy and "took an oath binding them together" the police statement said.

Khamis' job was to drive a truck from Mombasa to Nairobi. Once there, he was to load the truck with explosives assembled in a house in the Eastleigh neighborhood, home to thousands of Somalis.

"From Eastleigh, the suspect was to drive the motor vehicle from the place to the U.S. Embassy with his friends on board, to carry the suicide mission of the bombing of the embassy," the police report said.

Meanwhile, Nabhan and a second group were to charter a small plane at Nairobi's Wilson Airport.

Their pretense was they were heading to Somalia with a payload of "khat," a mild stimulant grown in Kenya and chewed by many Somalis. Instead, they planned "to load a bomb called 'jumbo' and hijack the plane and bomb the U.S. Embassy simultaneously with the first group," the report said.

From the statement, it appears the day of the attack had not been set and it was not clear if Khamis' arrest helped foil the plot. But the police statement ends with the assessment that "the mission could have been accomplished."

Getting near the heavily fortified embassy with a truck would have been difficult. But chartering a small plane is easily done at Wilson, where few questions are asked.

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