Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Kenya, a History of Attacks ; Israeli, US, and Kenyan Investigators Say This Incident Bears the Mark of Al Qaeda

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Kenya, a History of Attacks ; Israeli, US, and Kenyan Investigators Say This Incident Bears the Mark of Al Qaeda

Article excerpt

Riziki Yaa's uncle Charo got her into the dance troupe. The pay was meager and sometimes the tourists would giggle. But Thursday morning she was in the lobby of the Paradise Hotel, welcoming guests while her uncle played his bumbumbu drum.

Noy and Dvir Anter had seen traditional African dancing before - but only on TV. This was the first time the 12- and 14-year-old brothers had ever been outside of Israel.

Just as Charo began to sing and Dvir started to clap, a green Mitsubishi Pajero rammed through the lobby and exploded.

If the attackers were Al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist group, this would be the second such bombing in Kenya in four years, painfully underscoring for Kenyans their close relationship with Israel and the United States.

The three suicide bombers, one of them apparently jumping out of the vehicle and into the crowd, died instantly - taking with them the Anter children, five traditional dancers, another Israeli and five Kenyans. More than 40 others were injured in the blasts.

Minutes before the hotel attack, two shoulder-fired missiles - Russian-made Strelas - were fired from a grassy canyon near the airport, narrowly missing a chartered Israeli Boeing 757 on its way back to Tel Aviv.

The Israeli Mossad, the CIA, and the Kenyan intelligence agencies are working together to determine who is behind this bombing. A previously unknown organization in Beirut, the "Army of Palestine," claimed responsibility for the attacks. No one has yet ruled out that this might be a militant Palestinian group or the Hizbullah acting against Israel. The hotel is owned by an Israeli, caters almost exclusively to Israeli tour groups, and several eyewitnesses say the three men in the Pajero "looked Arab."

But, say sources from all three investigative groups, it is more likely that the attack in Kenya was part of the larger operations of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. While there is no hard evidence yet, the attack had certain hallmarks of an Al Qaeda operation - the synchronized aspect of the attack, hitting a "soft target," and the relative sophistication of the missile launchings. And Al Qaeda supporters applauded the attack. "There were those who wondered lately why Al Qaeda was ignoring the core Palestinian-Israeli conflict and focusing on the US," says Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad, a London-based leader of the radical Islamic movement Al Muhajiroun. "This was his first opportunity to respond," he says, adding that an attack against Israelis was "fitting," as the last 10 days of Ramadan "are days of the greatest jihad of all."

Yesterday, Kenyan police reported finding pieces of two gas cylinders (one with four numbers on it) that they suspect were fastened to the vehicle's underside to create a bigger explosion. Kenyan officials arrested 12 foreigners over the weekend - an American woman and her Spanish husband (who were later released with apologies), six Pakistanis, and four Somalis.

"Over the last year we have been on the lookout for an Al Qaeda attack in the Horn of Africa," says a US official, citing the porous borders in the region, the easy availability of arms, and the relatively large and increasingly radical Muslim population here - 10 percent of Kenyans are Muslim. Bin Laden is reported to have supporters and operatives in Kenya, neighboring Somalia, and Sudan, where he spent four years a decade ago. …

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