Official Afraid of Backlash from War; Nation Has Felt Terrorism Pain

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Kenya, twice the site of brazen attacks by Islamic terrorists in recent times, fears it may experience a "backlash" to any U.S.-led military strike in Iraq, the country's new foreign minister said yesterday.

With the United States and Britain gearing up for war against Saddam Hussein, "our fear in Kenya is about the very possible backlash," Stephen K. Musyoka said in an interview.

"Our hope is that any attack on Iraq does not bring an escalation in the kind of international terrorism from which we have already suffered."

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network is blamed for the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi that killed some 220 people and for last November's attacks on an Israeli plane and a hotel favored by Israeli tourists in Mombasa that took 16 lives.

In both cases, the large majority of the victims were Kenyans.

"When the bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers," Mr. Musyoka said, quoting an old Kenyan proverb.

Mr. Musyoka, the highest-ranking Kenyan official to visit Washington since the Dec. 27 election that swept the party of longtime Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi from power, said he found understanding for Kenya's vulnerability in talks this week with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other senior administration officials.

U.S. military officials last month announced a new joint task force with Kenya and five other Horn of Africa countries, backed by a 900-soldier force in Djibouti, to disrupt terrorist operations in the region.

"Certainly we found U.S. leaders very aware of our situation," Mr. Musyoka said.

He said Kenya has been exploited in part because Nairobi has tried to maintain good relations with Israel, with the Arab world, and with Washington and the West.

"We want to be the Switzerland of Africa," he said.

The Bush administration and European leaders have hailed the peaceful transfer of power in Kenya and the triumph of an opposition coalition headed by one-time Moi ally Mwai Kibaki. …