- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 19 (UPI) — A suspected member of al-Qaida captured in Somalia is now in custody in Kenya, authorities in Kenya and Somalia said Wednesday — possibly for questioning about the terror network's alleged role in last November's bombing of a Kenyan resort hotel.

The man, a Yemeni national, was apprehended by armed Americans in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Tuesday and flown to Kenya, said Abdurahman Aden, a Somali transitional government spokesman. The man had been wounded in a gun battle between an unidentified group who came to kidnap him and transitional government police, Aden added. The self-named transitional government controls only part of the Somalian capital Mogadishu, where residents often see rival warlords battling for turf.

"The Yemeni businessman was wounded, so he was taken to the hospital," Aden said. "There, he was given to the Americans."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen in Nairobi, Kenya, would not confirm Americans were involved in apprehending the man. The United States has no embassy in Somalia. However, a retired U.S. government official who lives in Africa said he had information that six Americans in civilian clothes had taken a wounded man from the Kaysaney hospital in Mogadishu.

Kenya police first refused to acknowledge the Yemeni suspect but later put out a statement about his arrest. "In a joint effort between our security agencies and some peace-loving Somalis … Kenya police have an al-Qaida suspect for questioning," the statement said. It then added it "would not be provident" to explain how the man came into their custody.

Aden did not have the man's name, but said he held a South African passport and was a partner in an electronics export business in Mogadishu.

Separately, Kinore Mwange, a Kenyan police spokesman, said, "We are holding some people for questioning," indicating that new suspects have been found in an investigation into a November terrorist bombing of an Israeli hotel on the coast that killed 18 people. Mwange would not confirm if the detention of a Yemeni national was related to the new arrests in Kenya.

Terrorists thought to be linked to al-Qaida blew up a hotel near the port city of Mombasa on Nov. 28. Police also found surface-to-air missiles near the Mombasa airport used to try to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet the same day. A man who police named as a suspect but is still at large reportedly called his wife from Somalia in December. Intelligence sources believed the man to have fled to Yemen from Somalia.

The man now in custody may or may not be the same.

Since the overthrow of Mohammed Said Barre in 1991, Somalia has remained largely lawless, controlled by rival factions. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, Somalia is seen as a potential haven for al-Qaida operatives, intelligence experts in Kenya have said.

About 2,000 U.S. troops, including Special Forces, are based across the northwest border of Somalia in Djibouti in an effort to head off terrorist attacks out of East Africa.

Al-Qaida, led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, is also believed responsible for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which more than 200 people died, mostly Kenyan and Tanzanian nationals. A vehicle-borne bomb exploded at each embassy within minutes of each other on Aug. 7, 1998. Eleven Americans on the embassy staff in Nairobi were among the dead.

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