- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

KIKAMBALA, Kenya Terrorists unleashed twin attacks on Israeli targets yesterday, killing 12 persons at an Israeli-owned beachfront hotel and firing missiles that narrowly missed a passenger jet bound for Tel Aviv.
The pattern was reminiscent of al Qaeda's 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa and other attacks by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
A previously unknown militant group calling itself the "Government of Universal Palestine in Exile, The Army of Palestine" claimed responsibility, but Kenyan, Israeli and U.S. officials said bin Laden followers could not be ruled out.
The deadly attack at the Paradise Hotel, 15 miles north of the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, occurred about 8:35 a.m. as new guests were checking in and others were eating breakfast. Three suicide bombers were involved.
According to witnesses, a green four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying three men smashed through the main gate to the sprawling hotel compound, a collection of buildings surrounded by palm trees that stretch to a nearby sandy white beach.
One man jumped from the vehicle, sprinted into the reception area and detonated a bomb, while the others detonated a bomb in the vehicle.
Police said they didn't know anything about earlier reports by hotel staff, who said they saw a light plane circle over the hotel and drop three packages at the time of the explosion.
The huge blasts shattered windows and masonry along the front of the hotel, incinerated vehicles parked nearby and set fire to grass roofs of the outbuildings, reducing their wooden frames to smoldering hulks. Stone walls were all that remained of the lobby.
The victims were three Israelis, including two teenage brothers from a Jewish settlement on the West Bank, and nine Kenyans believed to be hotel staff, police spokesman King'ori Mwangi said. The three bombers were not identified.
About five minutes before the hotel attack, two missiles streaked by an Israeli-owned Boeing 757 as it left the Mombasa international airport. The aircraft, owned by the Arkia charter company, landed safely about 5 hours later in Tel Aviv. None of the 261 passengers and 10 crew members was hurt.
Police said the missiles were fired at the plane from a white all-terrain vehicle about a mile from the airport and that three or four Arab-looking men were seen leaving the area in the van.
Two persons were detained in Mombasa and were being questioned in the attacks, but they have not been charged, according to the duty officer at police headquarters in Nairobi.
Israel vowed to track down those behind the attacks, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put the Mossad spy agency in charge of the investigation. The agency hunted down and killed nearly all the Palestinians believed responsible for kidnapping and killing 11 Israelis during the Munich Olympics in 1972.
"Our hand will reach them," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said of the attackers. "If anyone doubted that the citizens of the state of Israel cannot stand up to the killers of children, this doubt will be removed."
Israeli government adviser Zalman Shoval said al Qaeda's past activities in East Africa and the nature of the attacks pointed to the group, which carried out almost simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 231 persons, including 12 Americans, and injured about 5,000.
"We can't rule out the group that struck at us in 1998," Kenyan Vice President Musalia Mudavadi said, adding that national intelligence had received reports the country could be targeted again by terrorists.
The hotel attack in Kenya also was grimly reminiscent of last month's bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in which more than 190 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed.
"It was a big blast. I was thrown to the ground, and the windows shattered," said Zainul Jeddha, a Kenyan who was in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel. "There was screaming, there was crying, it was chaos."
Seven charred bodies lay strewn in the lobby before Red Cross workers put them in body bags and removed them. All that was left of the attackers' vehicle was a couple of suspension springs.
A distraught survivor marked a small piece of burnt hair and skull with an index card so the remains could be properly buried under Jewish law.
Rebecca Zevi, 30, an Israeli who was working at the hotel, said she was in her room when the explosions occurred.
"All the glass shattered. I ran to see what was happening. There was screaming," she said. "I don't know why this happened to us."
In Beirut, a militant group issued a statement saying the attacks were timed "to strike at Israeli interests" on the eve of the anniversary of the Nov. 29, 1947, decision by the United Nations to partition Palestine and allow the creation of a Jewish state.
President Bush, informed of the attacks during his Thanksgiving intelligence briefing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, denounced the violence and offered U.S. help in the investigation. The State Department issued an advisory warning Americans in Kenya to exercise "extra caution" at hotels, tourist locations and urban areas, especially in coastal regions.
The 15-nation European Union also said the attacks underlined the need "for international cooperation against terrorism in all its forms," and Germany urged its citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Kenya.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide