Terrorism: August 17, 2003


A dawn raid by Kenyan security officers in Mombassa on August 11th netted terrorists' arsenal and a false identity kit. The discovery was the first sign that an aggressive war against terrorism is bearing fruit. The Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit was hurriedly set up following increased threats from terrorists and has been doing well, despite the lack of a strong operational logistics base or even any special anti-terrorism skills training and equipment. 

The Mombassa cache included six loaded AK-47 30-round magazines, five LAW antitank rockets (two American-made and three Russian), walkie-talkie radios and a hand grenade. Antiterrorism police also seized what were described as "ID card laminated papers," plus computers, weapons training manuals, national ID cards, a computer and accessories and rubber visa entry stamps for various countries. Also found were a bui bui (black head cloth won by Muslim women) and a veil.

The stamps would have enabled terrorists to enter Kenya, while the bui bui and veil recovered could have been used by terrorists to disguise themselves as women. The LAW rockets (one of which was empty) would have been useful against a variety of targets, although the Kenyan press misidentified them as antiaircraft missiles. All of the items were recovered from a house in the Tudor Estate rented by the 21-year old Feisal Ali Nassor (a Kenyan of Yemeni descent). 

Ali had killed himself and a police officer outside Mombasa's main police station with a hand grenade on August 1, while resisting arrest over the bombing of a nearby Israeli-owned hotel in November 2002. 

Police have linked Ali with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and have been hunting an accomplice who escaped after the blast that killed Ali. It was not immediately clear why the house was searched Monday, more than a week after his death. Kenya's National Security Minister Murungaru said that members of the public had volunteered information leading to the find. Police said the suspected terrorist used to stay at the Tudor house with two other youths, who are still at large. They started living in the building last month and neighbors described them as less than sociable. 

The weapons cache discovery came only a few hours after a suspicious object triggered a major security alert and guest evacuation at the upscale Whitesands Hotel. An object shaped like a fire extinguisher estimated to weigh 25 kgs had been hidden within the control room of the hotel's swimming pool, which adjoins the Travelers' Rest Hotel. If this was a bomb, it was placed strategically to blow up the two hotels. 

The device was carried first to the beach at Shanzu, and then on to a nearby quarry to await the arrival of explosives experts. National Security Minister Chris Murungaru would only describe it as "a suspected object" and the local police, unfamiliar with what may have been a command detonated bomb, wisely waited until experts arrived from Nairobi. Two senior officials of the German navy were present as Government officials explained at a later press conference that the object was a navigational device. It was so large and bulky (10 inches by 30 inches) that it could have only been taken to the Whitesands from the ocean, since security at the hotel gate would have noticed it. The police were trying to trace the ship it came from by searching through the serial numbers on it. 

A 35-year old man, identified as Ibrahim Ali, was taken into custody moments after the navigational equipment was found and was still in police custody. The man had checked into the hotel at 5PM, just hours before the bomb scare and was scheduled to stay for a week. - Adam Geibel


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