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Israelis targeted { November 28 2002 }

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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 13:33 GMT
Israelis targeted in Kenya attacks

Suicide car bombers have killed at least eight people at an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, at the same time as two missiles were fired at an Israeli holiday jet that had taken off from the city's airport.

The missiles aimed at the aircraft narrowly missed their target, but a large part of the Paradise Hotel has been reduced to rubble and the rest is a smouldering shell.

Kenyan police said 11 people died, including three suicide bombers, six Kenyans and two Israelis.

Mombasa on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast is a popular destination for foreign visitors and the hotel was frequented mainly by Israeli tourists.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi said his country would "fight those behind the terrorist attack on Mombasa".

Kenyan and Israeli officials speculated that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was behind the near-simultaneous attacks.

If it is confirmed as the work of al-Qaeda, this would be the first direct attack on Israelis by the group - despite the hostility towards Israel normally shown by Bin Laden in recordings of his speeches.

Election day attack

One witness at the hotel said: "People were cut up in the legs, arms, all over their bodies. Everything was burned up".

Eyewitnesses said that an all-terrain vehicle with three men on board had crashed through a barrier outside the hotel and headed towards the lobby.

One man got out and ran towards the reception, where he set off an explosion, while the two others stayed in the vehicle, which blew up at the same time, witnesses said.

The blast occurred just after some 60 visitors had checked into the hotel, all of them from Israel, hotel officials said.

Most of the Kenyan victims are said to be traditional dancers who had been on hand to welcome the new arrivals.

There are also unconfirmed reports from hotel staff that a light aircraft had buzzed the hotel complex before the attacks, dropping three packages containing bombs.

The attacks come as important primary elections take place in Israel, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon facing a party leadership challenge from Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ahead of January's general election.

Mr Netanyahu called the attacks a "grave escalation of terror against Israel".


The aircraft that came under missile attack belongs to the Arkia charter company, which has a regular weekly service flying tourists between Tel Aviv and Mombasa.

Pilot Rafi Marik said he saw two white smoke trails passing "not very far" from the left wing of the aircraft before disappearing after a few seconds.

Some of the passengers said they had hear a loud noise just after take-off, but were told by the crew that it was a technical problem.

The plane - with about 200 people on board - landed safely at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv about five hours later.

Kenyan police said two missile casings had been found about two kilometres from Mombasa airport.

Police spokesman King'ori Mwangi "three or four men with Arab features" had been seen in a white vehicle that fled the scene.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, which happened within a few minutes of each other after 0800 local time (0500 GMT)

In 1998, Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania were attacked in nearly simultaneous car bombings that killed 219 people and 12 people respectively at the US embassies in each country.

The attacks were blamed on al-Qaeda by the United States.

In his most recent recorded message, broadcast on 12 November, Bin Laden called on governments in the West to distance themselves from the US and Israel.

If they did not, he said, they would face bombings and killings similar to the recent attack on a nightclub in a tourist resort in Bali, Indonesia, that killed about 200 people.

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