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3 isrealis dead kenya

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09:04 28/11/2002 Last update - 15:58 28/11/2002

3 Israelis dead in Kenya blast; Arkia plane attacked

By Yossi Melman and Zohar Blumenkrantz, Ha'aretz Correspondents, Ha'aretz Service and Agencies

Three Israelis, including two children, were among 11 people killed Thursday morning when a booby-trapped car went off in the lobby of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. At least 18 Israelis were injured in the blast.

Kenyan police said a car packed with explosives crashed through a barrier and into the lobby at the Paradise Hotel at Kikambala beach, about 40 kilometres north of Mombasa. Six Kenyans and the suspected suicide bombers in the car died in the attack, a Kenyan police spokesman said.

Around the same time as the hotel blast, two shoulder-fired anti-aircraft Strella missiles were fired at an Israeli passenger plane, belonging to the Arkia charter company, that had just taken off from Mombasa airport. The missiles missed the plane, which was carrying 140 passengers, but it was unclear whether some shrapnel might have hit the aircraft.

Kenyan police said two missiles were fired from a four-wheel-drive vehicle two kilometres north of Mombasa international airport shortly after the plane took off at 8:30 A.M. Three people of what police said were "Arab origin" were seen in the vehicle.

Five minutes later a white Peugeot car carrying three men crashed into the hotel and exploded, said police spokesman Kimori Mwangi.

"This was a terrorist attack," Mwangi told a local radio station. He said dozens of hotel guests were in the lobby checking in or checking out at the time of the blast.

Kenyan police said that two suspects were arrested Thursday afternoon in connection with the terror attacks, but their identity was not disclosed.

A senior Kenyan official said he was convinced that the al Qaida terror group of Osama bin Laden was behind the attack.

The plane, a Boeing 757, had initially prepared for an emergency landing in Nairobi, but then decided to continue to Israel when it became clear there was no serious damage. It landed safely at Ben Gurion airport.

EL Al suspended all flights for two hours as a safety precaution.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered an Israeli Aif Force plane be dispatched to Mombasa to help in providing medical care to those injured in the explosion in the hotel.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will convene a security consultation to be attended by Mofaz at 2:00 P.M. to discuss the Kenya attacks. The Mossad branch in Nairobi will be in charge of the attack investigation.

The explosion went off in the lobby of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa at about 7 A.M. (0500 GMT). The hotel is Israeli-owned and is frequented by Israelis, many of them on a week-long charter package to the east African country. Israel Radio reported that three of the dead were suicide bombers.

"I heard a loud explosion," one Israeli hotel guest, identified only as Rami, told Channel Two television. Another guest, Osnat, said the wounded included a number of children. Some of the injured were taken to a nearby small hospital.

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 lobby was shaken by the blast. "People were hit in the legs, arms, all over their bodies. Everything was burning up," she told Israel Radio by telephone. "Almost all the guests are Israelis. A few Kenyans were also hurt, but it was mostly Israelis."

The Kenyah ambassador to Israel, John Malan Sawe, told Army Radio that he had no doubt that the Al Qaida organization was behind the attacks.

"There is no doubt in my mind that al Qaida 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," Sawe said. "So I have no doubt whatsoever that these people were connected to al Qaeda," he told Reuters Television in an interview at the embassy in Tel Aviv.

The United States blamed bin Laden for two 1998 truck bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, in which 224 people were killed and thousands injured.

Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the targeting of Israelis in Kenya marked a "dangerous escalation of terror." Netanyahu said Israel had no information on who was responsible for the dual attack.

"This shows that terror organizations and the regimes behind them are able to arm themselves with weapons which can cause mass casualties anywhere and everywhere," the foreign minister said. "Today, they're firing the missiles at Israeli planes, tomorrow they'll fire missiles at American planes, British planes, every country's aircraft. This shows there can be no compromise with terror."

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