Government officials in Kenya are vehemently denying media reports that a man, believed to be a close associate of one of the three most wanted al-Qaida operatives in east Africa, has been arrested in the coastal town of Mombasa. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi there are fears of a terrorist attack on an international sporting event beginning later this month in Mombasa.
In a written statement to the press, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua says the government has not arrested and is not holding any suspect linked to any wanted terror suspects.
Mutua was refuting a report, which first appeared on Tuesday in the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper.
The article alleged that in recent days, police in Mombasa have arrested a man identified as Abdulmalik Abdul Jabbar, who may have close ties with top al-Qaida suspect in east Africa Saleh Ali Nabhan.
Nabhan, a Mombasa native, is believed to have been involved in the 2002 suicide car bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city that killed more than a dozen people and a simultaneous, but unsuccessful, attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.
The Daily Nation says the Mombasa police arrested the terrorist suspect at Fort Jesus, a tourist landmark, after an attendant at a foreign currency exchange office called the police. The attendant is said to have mistook the suspect for Nabhan because he resembled the alleged terrorist.
The spokesman for the Kenyan police, Gideon Kibunja, tells VOA that the report is nonsense.
"We are not aware of that arrest," he said. "We do not have any idea where the Nation got that story and it is incorrect."
But from reliable sources in Mombasa, VOA has learned that a man, believed to be holding a Jordanian passport, was arrested at Fort Jesus in recent days and interrogated by local security officials.
The sources say the suspect was flown from Mombasa to Nairobi and questioned about an alleged terrorist plot, targeting next Saturday's World Cross Country Championship race in Mombasa.
A week ago, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi issued a travel warning to its citizens, saying alleged extremist elements were threatening to disrupt the event. It is not clear whether the terror alert was in any way related to the arrest.
VOA has not been able to independently confirm Kenyan media reports that the man in custody was also questioned by U.S. officials and that he may now be in American custody.
After the 2002 bombing in Mombasa, al-Qaida suspect Saleh Ali Nabhan fled to Somalia. There, he linked up with two other al-Qaida operatives wanted in connection with the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attack on a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Yemen in 2000.
All three terror suspects are said to have left the Somali capital, Mogadishu in late December, under the protection of radical leaders of the ousted Islamic Courts Union. They are believed to be hiding in an Islamist stronghold near Somalia's border with Kenya.