- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

Information about al Qaeda plans for attacks in Africa, including the use of shoulder-fired missiles against aircraft, prompted Britain to suspend commercial flights to Kenya yesterday, and the U.S. government warned Americans to avoid travel to the region.

The State Department issued a statement urging Americans against travel to Kenya, basing that warning on indications of terrorist threats against U.S. and Western interests, including civil aviation.

The alert said the Kenyan government might not be able to prevent any such attack.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said recent intelligence on terrorist threats were received from “multiple sources” and indicate that there might be attacks in East Africa, the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Iran is harboring senior members from al Qaeda.

Mr. Rumsfeld, asked at a press briefing why al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has managed to avoid capture, noted the difficulty in finding one person, as well as the obstacles presented by state sponsors of terrorism and by areas of the world where terrorists can hide.

“There are still countries that are harboring terrorists,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “I mean, we know there are senior al Qaeda in Iran, for example, presumably not an ungoverned area.”

“He’s either alive — he’s alive and injured badly — or he’s dead,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, in reference to bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Rumsfeld also said al Qaeda is experiencing difficulty raising funds and moving terrorists, weapons and money.

“It’s more difficult to recruit; it’s more difficult to retain, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “The pressure that dozens and dozens and dozens of countries across the globe are putting on that terrorist network is having a good effect. We’ve always said that it doesn’t mean that there will not be terrorist attacks; we knew that, and we’ve said that repeatedly from this podium. And I suspect there will be more. But it’s tougher for them, and we intend to make it still tougher.”

Also yesterday, Lebanese government officials told wire-service reporters on the condition of anonymity that their army has arrested nine people they suspect of planning to assassinate the American ambassador and attack the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets. The arrests of seven Lebanese and two Palestinians occurred last week.

Regarding threats in Kenya, the State Department said, “Terrorist actions may include suicide operations, bombings, or kidnappings.”

The department also warned that there is a credible threat of terrorist attacks throughout East Africa. It urged travelers to the region to review their plans.

“The threat to aircraft by terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles continues in Kenya, including Nairobi,” the statement said. “Seaports may also be targeted. Other East African countries face similar threats.”

In London, Britain’s Department for Transport said, “The threat level to U.K. civil aviation interests in Kenya has increased to imminent,” and it ordered a suspension of flights to the country after 6 p.m. EDT yesterday.

It was not clear how many flights were affected. British Airways has one round-trip flight a day to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, which will be suspended indefinitely. Kenya Airways’ seven flights a week to London will continue.

The British flight ban was ordered after intelligence reports indicated that an al Qaeda terrorist linked to three attacks has returned to East Africa.

Officials said Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is sought for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and for attacks on the Kenyan coast in November, was reported to be back in the region. Mohammed is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Asked about the terrorist danger in Kenya, the U.S. official said: “This is something we view as credible in terms of threat information of possible attacks, not only in the Gulf area, but in Southeast Asia and East Africa.”

Kenyan authorities said yesterday that Mohammed was believed to have returned to the country’s major port, Mombasa, from Somalia. According to Matthew Kabetu, a Kenyan anti-terrorism official, Mohammed may be planning another attack. He told reporters that police were trying to find the terrorist.

Mohammed was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in 1998 for his role in the embassy bombings, which killed 231 persons, including 12 Americans.

According to U.S. officials, Mohammed traveled to Somalia after the Nov. 28 bombing of a hotel near the port of Mombasa that killed 11 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists.

Two terrorists also fired surface-to-air missiles at charter aircraft carrying Israeli tourists who were leaving the city. The missiles missed their targets.

Mr. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, said the Bush administration is reviewing how U.S. troops are deployed on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. forces are there primarily to help defend South Korea in any attack by communist North Korea.

The 37,000 U.S. troops are “now spread out over dozens and dozens of locations in the country, which is not efficient,” he said.

“It’s not helpful from a force protection standpoint. It tends to be somewhat intrusive in terms of the people who live there,” he added.

“We certainly would do whatever makes sense in very close consultation with them,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “But if you think of the changes in warfare — just most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan — it’s rather clear that there are enhancements that can be made to that force, and capabilities that can be arranged that would considerably strengthen the deterrent, even though it might change how forces were arranged and what kinds of forces were there.”

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