- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Washington and the international community do not fully appreciate that lawless Somalia has become a breeding ground for international terrorism, Kenya’s terrorism and security chief said yesterday.

“In Somalia, there are home-grown terror cells. There is no central authority, and terrorists can find safe refuge,” Christopher Murungaru, minister of state for provincial administration and national security, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

He said his government was afraid that Somalia, Kenya’s neighbor to the northeast, could become a failed state like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

“Frankly, we have not been very encouraged by the response of the international community. We feel almost abandoned,” he said, adding that the U.S. State Department has expressed some concern regarding Somalia, but not enough.

“We encouraged the United States not to give up. We are hoping for a good response,” Mr. Murungaru said about Somalia peace talks. A gathering of 500 delegates has been hosted and housed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, for two years.

In Washington to discuss U.S.-Kenyan cooperation and coordination in the war on terror, Mr. Murungaru said Kenya has made enormous strides against terrorism in the past 18 months, but Kenya’s accomplishments are not fully recognized. He said that since December 2002 — when opposition politician Mwai Kibaki was elected president in a landslide that ended Daniel Arap Moi’s 24-year rule — Kenya has strengthened its intelligence gathering and cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism.

Kenya has been a target of terrorist attacks since 1998, when al Qaeda operatives car-bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, killing 200 and injuring thousands. In November 2002, 10 Kenyans and three Israelis were killed when a car bomb exploded at an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa. A simultaneous rocket attack on an Israeli airliner missed its target.

“Most Kenyans did not think of terrorism as a Kenyan problem. They consider themselves victims. The causes of terrorism are from somewhere else. It was a problem being played out on our soil,” Mr. Murungaru said. He said the Mombassa attack was a “wake-up call.”

In May, the United States issued a warning against traveling to Kenya, after discovering a credible terrorist threat. Thousands of tourists canceled vacations and safaris, and business executives postponed their trips.

“Our economy was battered, and it is still hurting. Tourism is very important for us,” he said.

Daily visa receipts at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington dropped from about $10,000 a day to less than $2,500 a day after the travel warning was issued. When the advisory was lifted last summer, tourists began booking safaris again.

Thursday’s train bombings in Spain added to Kenya’s problems when the State Department on Friday issued another travel warning for Kenya and other East African nations.

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