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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 20:16 GMT
Al-Qaeda suspected in Kenya attacks
damaged cars
The massive blast created intense heat

The initial suspicion must be that al-Qaeda was behind the Kenya attacks, but a final judgement should be withheld.

It is just possible for example that Palestinians, or the Lebanese group Hezbollah, organised them.

There has been a claim of responsibility, from a previously unknown Palestinian group called the Army of Palestine, but that remains to be tested.

Most experts believe - and some are in no doubt - that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda group was responsible. The Kenyan ambassador to Israel, Lieutenant-General John Sawe, says that is his opinion. It is also the working assumption of the UK Foreign Office.

Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi in London, who has met Bin Laden, said: "I believe that this is Osama Bin Laden carrying out his threat."

Taped threats

He was referring to a threat issued earlier this month on an audio tape by someone now accepted as Bin Laden himself.

The tape threatened the United States and its allies - Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia - and Israel.

Map
"You will be killed, just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb," he said. Another part of the tape included the sentence: "Our kinfolk in Palestine have been slain and severely tortured for nearly a century."

Abdul Bari Atwan said this would be the first direct attack by al-Qaeda on Israelis and would be its "answer to those Arabs who ask why it is not attacking Israel".

An attack, he said, was expected - but not in Kenya.

More evidence

Apart from the threat, there is other evidence pointing to al-Qaeda:

  • It has operated in Kenya before, indeed on the Kenyan coast where these attacks took place.

    It bombed the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing 213 people. During the trial in the United States of four men convicted of that attack, the prosecution said one of the accused, Mohammed Odeh, had set up a fishing business on the Kenyan coast near Mombasa and that "the proceeds were used to help support members of the cell that existed on the coast of Kenya".

A book by two former US National Security officials, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, said that in the early 1990s, "a sleeper cell in the coastal city of Mombasa waited to be awakened for service".

That cell was wakened for the embassy bombing, but it shows that al-Qaeda knew the area well and could operate there with some ease. There is a Muslim population into which they could merge.

The leader of that cell was quoted as saying: "We the East Africa crew.. are great implementers".

  • An al-Qaeda suspect from Yemen, Hassan Omar Hussein, was arrested trying to get into Kenya in September this year. He was said to be planning to use a false Kenyan identity.

    A Kenyan, Mubarak Salim Mubarak, was accused of helping him and was released on bail. This shows an active and recent interest by al-Qaeda in Kenya. It used similar undercover methods before it attacked the US embassy in 1998.

Missiles

The nature of the attacks - a simultaneous suicide car bomb and the firing of air-to-air missiles - is in line with the spectacular tactics previously used by al-Qaeda.

A soldier holds a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile
Shoulder-held missiles are widely available
The missiles - to judge from TV pictures of the launcher - were Soviet-era Sam-7 Strelas. They are heat-seeking, shoulder-fired weapons which, according to the literature on them, were notoriously inaccurate.

Such missiles would not be hard to get on the black market. Similar versions are used by armies across the Middle East and South Asia, where al-Qaeda has good contacts.

Kenya itself was not thought to be an active al-Qaeda base, but further north, in and around Yemen, there has been support for Bin Laden.

A French oil tanker was recently blown up off the coast of Yemen.

Kenya's neighbour Somalia, too, is thought to attract al-Qaeda remnants escaping from Afghanistan. There has been, therefore, al-Qaeda activity not far away and the US has placed special forces in the region.

Abdul Bari Atwan said he expected a claim of responsibility to be made in due course. His own paper was used for such a claim after the 1998 embassy bombings.

A previously unknown Palestinian group claimed responsibility, in a statement quoted in a report by Hezbollah TV in Lebanon.

The station reported that a group called the Army of Palestine said it had "decided to let the world hear the voice of the refugees and to highlight their cause". It had "ordered its groups to leave for Kenya to attack Israeli interests".

The TV report said the attack marked the 55th anniversary of the United Nations resolution which on 29 November 1947 called for the division of Palestine, as it was then called, into Jewish and Arab states.

The Palestinians and other Arabs did not accept the partition.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Robbins
"Kenya and this hotel were all too easy to hit"
The BBC's Frank Gardner at the Foreign Office
"This was a very well-timed and coordinated attack"

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See also:

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