Al-Qaida claims responsibility for recent attacks

CAIRO, Egypt -- A statement attributed to al-Qaida claimed responsibility Monday for last week's car-bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and the attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner the same day.

The statement, posted on an Islamic Web site, called the Thursday's attacks a Ramadan greeting to the Palestinian people and referred to the al-Qaida attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 231 people -- including 12 Americans -- and wounded more than 5,000.

"At the same place where the 'Jewish Crusader coalition' was hit four years ago ... here the fighters of al-Qaida came back once again to strike heavily against that evil coalition. But this time, it was against Jews," the statement said.

It was impossible to verify the veracity of the claim. In Washington, U.S. counterterrorism officials said they considered the claim credible and part of growing evidence that al-Qaida was involved in the Kenya attacks.

Three suicide bombers attacked the Paradise Hotel, killing 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three bombers. Just minutes before the hotel bombing, two Strela missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane departing from Mombasa's airport, in what was the first phase of the dual attack on Israelis in Kenya.

The five-page claim was made in the name of "The Political Office of al-Qaida Jihad Organization."

Message for Jews

Unlike four years ago, when the United States was the target in Kenya, the statement said this time the message was for Jews.

"We send them (Jews) a message: Your practices in corrupting the Earth, occupying sacred places, criminal acts against our families in Palestine ... all your practices will not pass peacefully without firing back," it said. "Your children for ours, your women for ours, your elders for ours ... And in return for (your) siege on lives and livelihoods, a siege of fear and terror that we will impose on you wherever you are, land, sea or air."

It pledged that further attacks would be carried out, saying "it is a war between faith and the infidel, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice."

The statement called the U.S.-led war on terrorism "fragile," saying that fighters successfully attacked the Kenya hotel "at a time when the whole world stands against them, and indeed is hunting them."

The only other claim of responsibility came shortly after Thursday's attacks, made in a fax to news organizations in Beirut from the previously unknown Army of Palestine. Palestinian officials have denied any involvement.

Debating bin Laden

As dusk fell and Kenya's Muslims broke their daily fast Monday in the final week of the holy month of Ramadan, a main topic of conversation was Osama bin Laden and his network's role in international terrorism.

It's a debate that has raged among the country's Muslim minority since the Sept. 11 attacks -- returning to the fore again since last week's twin attacks.

Some in Kenya support bin Laden -- even carrying background images of him on the screens of their cell phones -- while others despise him or fear his growing influence.

At the Mbaruk mosque in the upscale Kibokoni neighborhood, Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed, a 49-year-old real estate agent, his 12-year-old son and some friends sat by a fountain breaking their fast with dates and sweet thick coffee.

"My children sit all day and watch TV, and they see Palestinian people being killed by Jews, Afghans killed by Americans, and they have no context. They don't understand it. They only see killing, and they become extreme," Ahmed said.

"It's our job to teach them love," he added, before walking away with his son.

, the tails of their floor-length cotton shirts or "kanzus" floating behind them.

Muslims make up 5 percent to 10 percent of Kenya's population of 30 million. From Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south, Africa's Indian Ocean coast is dotted with cities and towns founded more than 1,000 years ago by Muslim traders.