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12 held in Kenya attacks
American woman among detainees; death toll at 16
Karel Prinsloo/Associated Press
An Israeli soldier on Friday removes an ark containing the Torah from the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, Kenya.
By Matthew Rosenberg
Nov. 30, 2002
MOMBASA, Kenya - With Israeli and American authorities casting suspicion on al-Qaida or its allies, Kenyan authorities investigating the twin assaults on Israeli targets there focused quickly on foreign suspects, reporting Friday that they had arrested six Pakistanis, four Somalis, an American and a Spaniard.
Al-Qaida carried out almost simultaneous bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 231 people, including 12 Americans, and injured about 5,000.
Police spokesman King'ori Mwangi said police picked up nine of the foreigners on an Indian Ocean beach in the Mombasa area Friday morning. He declined to say if those suspects were attempting to leave the country by boat.
Mwangi also said all but two of the suspects in custody were traveling on what he termed "suspicious" passports, perhaps alluding to Somalia, where it is possible to obtain a travel document in less than an hour. The lawless country is believed to be a refuge for some al-Qaida operatives.
Two shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles were launched against an Israeli charter jet leaving Mombasa airport Thursday morning, narrowly missing the Arika Airlines Boeing 757 with 261 passengers and 10 crew members. It landed safely in Tel Aviv.
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A few minutes later, a vehicle packed with explosives broke through the gate at the Paradise Hotel. One attacker ran into the lobby and blew himself up, while two others exploded the vehicle. The death toll from the bombing has risen to 16, including 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three bombers.
President Daniel arap Moi visited the shell of the destroyed hotel Friday and bemoaned that his country had again been caught in the middle of global terrorism.
"We are very bitter because our economy relies upon people who come here freely," he said.
American, Spaniard held
The American woman and a Spanish man were taken into custody about 90 minutes after the bombing Thursday, but may have mistakenly been caught in the police dragnet, sources close to the investigation said.
A top police official suggested otherwise.
"Immediately after the incident, we detained two people for interrogation, arising from the information they gave us. . . . By this morning, we were able to also detain 10 people," Police Commissioner Philemon Abong'o told reporters.
Deputy Police Commissioner William Langat later told reporters that the six Pakistanis and four Somalis were detained Monday for attempting to enter the country on fake passports produced in neighboring Somalia. It was impossible to reconcile the differences in the accounts.
The American and the Spaniard, believed traveling as husband and wife, were arrested as they checked out of a hotel near the one that was hit by the suicide attackers.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen confirmed that an American woman and a Spanish man with U.S. resident status, believed to be her husband, were being detained. He declined to identify the pair.
A police source, however, identified the woman as Alicia Kalhammer, who was said to have used a Florida address when she checked herself and the Spaniard into Le Soleil Beach Club, three miles from the Paradise Hotel, on Nov. 26. The source was unable to identify the man.
In Washington, initial suspicion centered on two groups: al-Qaida and al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a Somali Islamic group suspected of having links to bin Laden's network, said a U.S. official, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity. It is also possible the two groups were working together, the official said.
Simultaneous attacks like those on the airliner and hotel are an al-Qaida trademark, officials said, noting that bin Laden's recent audio message threatened Israelis. Over the past year, U.S. intelligence has detected signs al-Qaida was looking to strike in the Horn of Africa, the official said.
All of these groups have access to the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that were launched at the airliner, officials said. Those missiles are easy to obtain on the international arms market.
Officials said it appeared the two missiles were fired by someone standing in a gully next to the airfield.
Police recovered missile launchers and two missile casings, a government statement said. There was no official information on the kind of missile used, but reports in the Israeli press suggested it could have been a Russian-made Strela missile.
The Daily Nation newspaper reported that investigators were examining possible links between the attacks and five Pakistanis and two Somalis detained Monday near the port of Mombasa after they were found with Somali passports all issued on the same day in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Mwangi refused to comment on the reports.
The previously unknown Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks. But Palestinian officials denied that any Palestinian group was involved, and Kenyan and Israeli officials have said they suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was behind the attacks.
The leader of a militant Islamic organization in London told the BBC that he had been aware of threats against East Africa for several days.
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, head of Al-Muhajiroun, said unspecified warnings had been posted on Web sites and in Internet chat rooms.