Al Qaeda blamed for Kenya attacks

Witnesses said bloodied survivors staggered to the beach for water after the attack

Attack came as Israeli tourists were booking in to the hotel

Attack came as Israeli tourists were booking in to the hotel (8/7/98)
Thursday, November 28, 2002      Posted:    7:18 AM EST  (1218 GMT)
MOMBASA, Kenya (CNN) -- Kenya's ambassador to Israel says there is "no doubt" that al Qaeda was behind the car bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and a missile attack on an Israeli airliner.

Eleven people were killed on Thursday by the suicide bomb at a hotel in Mombasa frequented by Israeli tourists, police told CNN.

According to Israel's Foreign Ministry, three Israelis were killed in the blast, including two children aged around 8.  At the scene, rescue officials told CNN's Catherine Bond the death toll could be as high as 14.

Meanwhile an Arkia Airlines Boeing 757 with 261 people on board was hit by shrapnel after it took off from the port city on Thursday but the decision was taken to fly on to Israel.

The airliner later landed safely in Tel Aviv. Describing the experience as "very surreal" passengers told CNN they had seen smoke on the left hand side of the aircraft but only been informed of the missile attack half an hour from the end of the flight. (Full story)

Six of the hotel bomb victims were Kenyan, police said, adding that three suicide bombers also died.  About 80 others were injured as the explosion started a fire at the Paradise hotel.

Reports said a four-wheel drive vehicle laden with explosives rammed into the hotel lobby as 146 Israeli tourists were checking in at reception.

Witnesses spoke of bloodied survivors staggering to the beach from the shattered hotel and screaming for water.

The owner of the Paradise Hotel which is in Malindi, north of Mombasa said three men fought we security and drove into the hotel.

He said about 8:30 a.m. local time a vehicle pulled up to the entrance of the hotel and the men inside fought with security officers.  The men were able to get past security and drove the car into the hotel reception area.

He said one of them men blew himself up in the lobby while two others set off explosives packed into the car.

About the same time, he said, a light plane flying overhead dropped at least three bombs in the direction of the hotel and beach nearby.

A London Muslim cleric who supports Osama bin Laden said that Islamic militant groups sympathetic to al Qaeda warned of an attack on Kenya one week ago on Internet chat rooms and in e-mails.

"They warned one week ago that there would be an attack on Kenya and they mentioned Israelis," said Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the radical London-based al Muhajiroun group.

Kenyan Ambassador John Sawe told Reuters: "There is no doubt in my mind that al Qaeda is behind this attack, because we have no domestic problems, no terrorism in our country, and we have no problem with our neighbours, no problem whatsoever."

A number of the the Kenyan victims were traditional dancers welcoming the tourists to the hotel, Abbas Gullet, Secretary-General of the Kenyan Red Cross, told CNN.

Kenyan journalist Victor Mwasi told CNN he had seen seven bodies, four burned beyond recognition.  He said seven people had been taken to hospital after the attack in the hotel lobby.

"Just after a group of tourists were brought to the hotel, I saw a white Pajero forcing its way into the gate," a barman at a hotel across the road from the Mombasa Paradise, told Reuters, adding the attack happened at about 8.30 a.m. (0530 GMT).

"It had three people of Arabic origin and after it got to the reception area I heard an explosion and the whole hotel was on fire."

A woman who gave her name as Neima said she had just arrived at the Paradise hotel with a group of tourists from Israel when the hotel was shaken by the blast.

"People were cut up in the legs, arm, all over their bodies.  Everything was burned up," she told Israel Radio by telephone, according to Reuters.

"Almost all the guests are Israelis. A few Kenyans were also hurt, but it was mostly Israelis."

Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily condemned the attacks and said they sent a chilling signal.

"It means that terror organsations and the regimes behind them are able to arm themselves with weapons which can cause mass casualties anywhere and everywhere," he said.

"Today, they're firing the missiles at Israeli planes, tomorrow they'll fire missiles at American planes, British planes, every country's aircraft. Therefore, there can be no compromise with terror."

Kenya has seen previous terrorist attacks against Western interests.

An August 7, 1998, blast at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi killed 219 people -- including 12 Americans -- and wounded 5,000.  A nearly simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring Tanzania killed 12 people and injured more than 80.

The United States sentenced four men to life in prison without parole for their roles in the attacks.  It accused them of having links to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network, who were also blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States last year.

Mombasa is frequented by U.S. Navy vessels assigned to the Indian Ocean. Although the ships bring much-needed dollars to the city of one million, many of the mostly Muslim residents express ambivalence toward Americans.

Muslims are a minority in Kenya as a whole, officially accounting for 10 percent of the country's 29 million people.

Copyright 2002 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.