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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 10:34 GMT
Questions over Kenyan security
US Embassy bomb site
The 1998 bombing was a shock to Kenya

The attacks in Kenya on a hotel and an aircraft have demonstrated the difficulty of ensuring security for foreign tourists in holiday destinations that are soft targets for would be attackers.

They also show that overall security has improved little in the country since the US Embassy bombing in 1998.

Kenya was rocked by the attack on the Nairobi embassy, which was blamed on Osama Bin Laden.

Some 219 people were killed and there was a massive security operation involving the US FBI to hunt down the perpetrators - 12 others were killed in a simultaneous attack in neighbouring Tanzania.

During the trial in the US of those charged with the bombing of the Nairobi embassy, a witness who admitted to being a former member of the al-Qaeda network said that two of the men eventually on trial were living in Kenya.

The witness said that Mohammed Sadeek Odeh was in Mombasa and Wadih el Hage in Nairobi, where he was the leader of the al-Qaeda cell in the Kenyan capital.

Rescue efforts in 1998
Over 200 were killed in the embassy bombing

Following the bombings the US and Israeli security services were both believed to be involved in helping the Kenyan Government improve its security.

But over four years on and following the 11 September attacks and other al-Qaeda linked operations - there does not appear to have been a tightening of security for many potential targets in Kenya or along its porous borders.

There has undoubtedly been an improvement in security - carried out both by the Kenyans and the respective governments - at embassies thought to be likely targets for attacks

The latest attacks also took place when Kenyan and Israeli attention will have been diverted by impending elections in both countries.

For Kenya, this means that police attention has been focused on preventing disorder at political rallies across the country and providing protection for candidates.

Few security improvements

It was expected that the embassy bombings of August 1998 would lead to a major rethink of security in countries like Kenya.

They were not known for tight policing at airports, embassies or other possible targets in Nairobi or the major tourists centres - such as the coastal city of Mombasa with its string of beach resorts along the Indian Ocean coast.

Open in new window : Mombasa voices
Kenyans react to terror attacks

These areas are as vulnerable to attack as the Indonesia tourist resort of Bali attacked in October.

Mombasa would be a key target because of the large number of foreign tourists there, the use of nearby airfields by British and German military aircraft, the regular presence of US naval vessels in the port and the large Muslim population of the coastal region.

The coastal region around Mombasa has strong and centuries-old trading relations with Arab states in the Gulf and on the Arabian peninsula.

Following the Kenyan Government security operations after the embassy bombing and the search for al-Qaeda cells after 11 September 2001, Muslim groups in Mombasa and Nairobi staged demonstrations protesting at what they said was persecution of Muslims.

In September 2001, Kenyan intelligence officials were quoted as saying that pro-Bin Laden graffiti and the unofficial renaming of a Mombasa street as Bin Laden Street indicated some support for him in the town.

But regular visitors to Kenya and BBC correspondents there have not recorded any major tightening of security since either 7 August, 1998 or 11 September, 2001.

Ahmed Rajab, editor of the Africa Analysis publication, told BBC News Online that there had been no obvious changes.

"Security at the airport is very lax," he said.

He added that it was widely believed that the Israeli Government has provided Kenya, and other African governments, with security training and assistance, but there was no public sign that this had led to any improvements.

And the Israeli Foreign Ministry, very conscious of threats to Israelis travelling abroad, told BBC News Online that Kenya was not a country where there were any particular security concerns.

Ministry spokesman Yoni Teled said that there was "not considered to be any threat to Israelis in Kenya" prior to the attack and no specific security advice had been given to people travelling there.

Al-Qaeda and Somalia

The security problems which Kenya faces are immense.

It has long, remote borders with Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. These are hard to police for a country with limited financial and human resources to commit to border patrols.

The border with Somalia is particularly troublesome for the country and has for decades seen incursions into Kenya by armed bands known as shiftas.

They are frequently involved in smuggling anything from ivory to weapons.

In nearly 40 years of independence, Kenya has been unable to police this area effectively.

The 10 years of conflict and instability in Somalia have made weapons easily available in Somalia's border areas.

The US State Department in its country information on Kenya says that there are concerns about the wider links of Somali armed groups.

"There are indications of ties between Muslim extremist groups, including Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation, and these roving groups of Somali gunmen," the document says.


The State Department says the US Embassy in Kenya has noted with concern the heightened threat to US citizens or facilities in Kenya that is represented by the Somali link.

In such a situation, it would be all too easy for groups intending to carry out attacks within Kenya to bring weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, into the country.

Even countries like Britain have experienced missile and mortar attacks in areas with a high security status.

In March 1999, the IRA's military wing was able to fire mortars at Heathrow airport from a hotel car park, despite over 30 years of high security against such attacks.

Kenya does not have a sophisticated security apparatus for dealing with attacks by groups like al-Qaeda and is a particularly vulnerable country because of its long and porous borders.

The Kenyan Ambassador to Israel has said that he has no doubts that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. He said Kenya did not have any internal problems that would lead to such an attack.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson reports from Nairobi
"(Mombasa) is the premier destination in Kenya"
Shlomo Hanael from airline charter company Arkia
"The crew reported some streaks of light by the aircraft"

Key stories



See also:

13 Jun 02 | Africa
20 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
25 Sep 01 | Africa
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