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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 20:51 GMT
Kenya terror strikes target Israelis
Aerial view of the Paradise Hotel after bombing
The hotel was popular among Israeli tourists
At least 15 people have died in a suicide bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, just as two missiles were fired at an Israeli holiday jet that had taken off from the city's airport.

The missiles narrowly missed the Arkia airline plane - a Boeing 757 carrying 261 passengers - but a large part of the Paradise Hotel was reduced to rubble and the rest is a smouldering shell.

Map

Kenyan police said three suicide bombers were killed, along with nine Kenyans and three Israelis, two of whom were children.

About 80 people, most of them Kenyans, were injured in the attack and many are being treated for burns.

A team of Israeli doctors has arrived to help evacuate the Israeli injured.

Mombasa police have detained two people - said to be of Middle East origin - who were in the area of the hotel bombing.

Police are now examining the crater left by the car bomb. The vehicle was obliterated.

In Lebanon, a previously unknown group called the Army of Palestine has said it carried out the attacks.

But Kenyan and Israeli officials speculated that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network might have been responsible.

Missile launcher shown on Kenyan TV
Kenyan TV showed a missile launcher found in the area
The US Government condemned the attacks, but said it was too early to blame al-Qaeda.

"The United States Government deplores this violence," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "We stand prepared to offer the governments of Kenya and Israel any assistance necessary in this investigation."

If confirmed as the work of al-Qaeda, it would be their first direct attack on Israelis - despite Bin Laden's hostility towards Israel.

Mombasa, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, is a popular destination for foreign visitors and the hotel was frequented mainly by Israeli tourists.


We heard a massive explosion - black smoke was billowing everywhere, the thatched roofs were falling in, then we heard screaming and wailing

Eyewitness Kelly Hartog

In 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania were attacked in nearly simultaneous car bombings that killed 219 people and 12 people respectively. The US blamed al-Qaeda.

Coordinated, synchronised attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda, and the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says months of careful surveillance clearly went into the latest Kenya attacks.

Suicide team

Eyewitnesses said an all-terrain vehicle with three men on board crashed through a barrier outside the Paradise Hotel and headed towards the lobby.


If these terrorists have scores to settle, let them fight the battles in their own countries

T.J. Kisukwa, Kenya

One man got out and ran towards the reception, where he set off an explosion, while the others stayed in the vehicle, which blew up at the same time, witnesses said.

The blast occurred just after some 60 visitors had checked into the hotel, all of them from Israel, hotel officials said.

Most of the Kenyan victims were said to be traditional dancers.

Claim

Al-Manar television in Lebanon later reported a short statement from a group called the Army of Palestine claiming responsibility for the attacks.

Arkia Boeing 757 after landing at Ben Gurion airport
The plane did not show any signs of damage
The group said it wanted the world to hear the "voice of the refugees" on the 55th anniversary of the partition of Palestine.

The attacks happened within a few minutes of each other, just after 0800 local time (0500 GMT).

They coincide with important primary elections in Israel, with Prime Minister Sharon facing a party leadership challenge from Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Near miss

The airliner landed safely at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv about five hours after the missile attack. It was escorted in by Israeli F-15 fighter jets.

Relieved passengers broke into tears and sang a traditional Israeli song.

Kenyan police said a missile launcher and two missile casings were found in the Changamwe area of Mombasa, about two kilometres from the airport.

The Israeli pilot, Rafi Marik, said he felt a jolt and saw two white smoke trails passing "not very far" from the left wing of the aircraft before disappearing after a few seconds.

Some of the passengers said they heard a loud noise just after take-off.

The Arkia charter company has a regular weekly service flying tourists between Tel Aviv and Mombasa.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Harding in Kenya
"The Kenyan police are still saying very little"
Rafi Marek, pilot of the Arkia Airlines plane
"At first I didn't know what was going on"
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
"Terrorism will not dictate the agenda of Israel"

Key stories

Analysis

TALKING POINT

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See also:

28 Nov 02 | Middle East
23 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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