Attackers kill 12 at Kenya hotel, fire at plane

Friday, November 29, 2002

KIKAMBALA, Kenya -- In a twin attack reminiscent of al-Qaida's well-coordinated 1998 assault on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, suicide bombers in Kenya on Thursday killed 12 people at an Israeli-owned beach hotel and two missiles narrowly missed an airliner carrying home Israeli holidaymakers.

In apparently unrelated violence, six Israelis died in another bloodletting at home as gunmen open fire on a bus station and a crowd waiting to vote in the Likud Party primary in northern Israel.

Two people were detained and were being questioned in the Kenya attacks but have not been formally charged, according to the duty officer at police headquarters in Nairobi. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were detained in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa but gave no further details.

Two being questioned

The duty officer at Nairobi police headquarters said two people had been arrested in connection with the Kenyan attacks and were being questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department in Mombasa. The officer, who did not want to be further identified, gave no further details.

A previously unknown militant group calling itself the Government of Universal Palestine in Exile, The Army of Palestine claimed responsibility, but Kenyan, Israeli and U.S. officials said Osama bin Laden's terrorist network couldn't be ruled out.

Israeli government adviser Zalman Shoval said al-Qaida's past activities in East Africa and the nature of the attacks pointed to the group, which 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.

"We can't rule out the group that struck at us in 1998," Kenyan Vice President Musalia Mudavadi said, adding that the country's intelligence had received reports it could be targeted again by terrorists.

Spy agency

Israel vowed to track down those behind the attacks and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put the Mossad spy agency in charge of the investigation. The agency hunted down and killed nearly all the Palestinians believed responsible for kidnapping and killing 11 Israelis during the Munich Olympics in 1972.

"Our hand will reach them," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said of the attackers. "If anyone doubted that the citizens of the state of Israel cannot stand up to the killers of children, this doubt will be removed."

Hotel attack

The deadly attack at the beach-front Paradise Hotel, some 15 miles north of Mombasa, occurred about 8:35 a.m.

According to witnesses, a green four-wheel drive carrying three men smashed through the main gate to the sprawling hotel compound -- a collection of buildings surrounded by palm trees that stretch to a nearby beach.

One man jumped from the vehicle, sprinted into the reception area and detonated a bomb, while the others detonated a bomb in the vehicle.

Police said they didn't know anything about earlier reports by hotel staff who said they saw a light plane circle over the hotel and drop three packages at the time of the explosion.

The victims were three Israelis, including two teenage brothers from a Jewish settlement on the West Bank, and nine Kenyans believed to be hotel staff, police spokesman King'ori Mwangi said. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz on its Web site said the third Israeli victim was a 60-year-old man from the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana.

The bombers were not identified.

About five minutes before the hotel attack, two missiles streaked by an Israeli-owned Boeing 757 as it left the Mombasa international airport. The aircraft, owned by the Arkia charter company, landed safely about 5 1/2 hours later in Tel Aviv, Israel. None of the 261 passengers and 10 crew members were hurt.

The targeting of Israeli tourists in Kenya and a shooting spree by two Palestinian gunmen that killed six Israelis at a polling station in northern Israel overshadowed a Likud Party leadership primary in which Sharon defeated Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Likud race was widely seen as determining who will lead Israel after the Jan. 28 general election. The shootings in Beit Shean were claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

"We cannot allow the murderers disrupt our lives," he said. "The Palestinian Authority and Arab countries want to intervene in our democratic process."

The shootings in Beit Shean were claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

"We cannot allow the murderers disrupt our lives," he said. "The Palestinian Authority and Arab countries want to intervene in our democratic process."

The hotel attack in Kenya also was grimly reminiscent of last month's bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in which more than 190 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed.

"It was a big blast. I was thrown to the ground and the windows shattered," said Zainul Jeddha, a Kenyan who was in her room on the fourth floor. "There was screaming, there was crying, it was chaos."

Police said the missiles were fired at the plane from a white all-terrain vehicle about a mile from the airport and three or four Arab-looking men were seen leaving the area in the van. Investigators found two missile casings near the airport but had made no arrest.

At the hotel, seven charred bodies lay strewn in the lobby before Red Cross workers put them in body bags and removed them. All that was left of the attackers' vehicle was a couple of suspension springs.

A distraught survivor marked a small piece of burnt hair and skull with an index card so the remains could be properly buried under Jewish law.

Hundreds of people massed outside the hotel's gates as Kenyan authorities sifted through the wreckage. Tour buses ferried survivors to other hotels in the area.

Rebecca Zevi, 30, an Israeli who was working at the hotel, said she was in her room when the explosions occurred.

"All the glass shattered. I ran to see what was happening. There was screaming," she said. "I don't know why this happened to us."

President Bush, informed of the attacks during his Thanksgiving intelligence briefing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, denounced the violence and offered U.S. help in the investigation. The State Department issued an advisory warning Americans in Kenya to exercise "extra caution" at hotels, tourist locations and urban areas, especially in coastal regions.

The 15-nation European Union also said the attacks underlined the need "for international cooperation against terrorism in all its forms" and Germany urged its citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Kenya.

In Beirut, Lebanon, a militant group issued a statement claiming that the attacks were timed "to strike at Israeli interests" on the eve of the anniversary of the Nov. 29, 1947, decision by the United Nations to partition Palestine and allow creation of a Jewish state.

It was not immediately possible to verify the statement's authenticity and Palestinian officials denied any connection with the attacks.

If al-Qaida was responsible for the attack, it would be the first by the terrorist group on Israeli interests. There have, however, been indications the organization might begin targeting Israelis to win support among Muslims angry over Israeli actions against Palestinians.

The Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, a nation of 30 million people, is a predominantly Muslim region, and is a popular international tourist destination.

However, Dia'a Rashwan of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said al-Qaida operatives can move among the region's Muslim population without attracting much attention and the nation's underpaid and understaffed police force has difficulty tracking them down.

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