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Missile Strike Targeted 2 Kenyan Al-Qaida Terrorists Linked to 1998 East Africa Embassy Blasts

No one has claimed responsibility for the New Year's Day deaths of two Kenyans suspected of helping to engineer the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. But reports have surfaced of US drone-delivered Predator missile attacks in Pakistan's remote South Waziristan region that killed Kenyan-born Usama al-Kini and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmad Salim Swedan, on January 1. Al-Kini is one of several operatives reputed to be head of al-Qaida's activities in Pakistan, and he was named in media reports as mastermind of the failed first assassination attempt against former prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto upon her return to Pakistan in October, 2007. The director of Aberfoyle International Security, Andrew McGregor, says that reaction to news of the Kenyan deaths has been positive.

"Reaction I've heard from Kenya, of course, is mostly from authorities, and, of course, they're quite pleased to be rid of both these individuals. I don't think there ever was any popular support for them or their activities within Kenya, and we certainly haven't seen anything in the way of demonstrations or support from the people of Kenya. In Pakistan, I think it's quite different. I think it's being absorbed into a larger degree of anger being expressed about the missile attacks in general, even though there is a lot of anger in Pakistan about the attacks, and there's some recognition that they're being directed against foreigners," he said.

McGregor comments that the reluctance by Islamabad or Washington to take credit for the New Year's Day strikes is a convenient way for all not to invite reprisals.

"They (the Pakistanis) can never sanction it openly. All you'll ever hear from them is that they're against this kind of activity. And, of course, the US doesn't publicly acknowledge responsibility for the attacks. So it's all a bit convenient for everyone involved," he noted.

With American leadership expecting to change next week, the Obama administration will want to address early on how it expects to handle tensions in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Talks last weekend in Pakistan by Vice President-Elect Joe Biden and Pakistan's new president Asif Ali Zardari are believed to have focused on US anti-terrorism policy, which Andrew McGregor says Washington would like to continue.

"It's proven to be on a tactical level very effective in eliminating al-Qaida leaders who are wanted individuals. On a strategic level, it poses a lot more problems. Tactically, it's very successful. This is probably the best thing they've come up with yet. We started out in 2001 with carpet-bombing from B-52 bombers trying to target one person in particular and maybe a handful of others. That was just a ridiculous way to start this war and, I think, put the United States behind from the very beginning. What we have now is use of the most modern technology that allows the United States to select its targets and confirm its targets before it takes any kind of action. And the only drawback from this again is the collateral damage," he said.

McGregor notes that Pakistan's press is reporting that Biden, the outgoing chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brought a proposed aid package of $15 billion to his talks with Pakistan military and government leaders last week to demonstrate the American commitment to pursuing the war against insurgents in Pakistan's northwest frontier. Since 1998, investigators have succeeded in tracking down and prosecuting members of the teams that carried out the Kenya and Tanzania embassy blasts. Andrew McGregor says the decision to hit the two Kenyans ten years later follows a series of other successful missile strikes against alleged al-Qaida operatives finding sanctuary in remote Pakistan.

"It's just recently, in the last six months when the Predator missile attacks have intensified, that we've seen a number of leaders kind of go down, one right after another. And I think finally, these two individuals came to the top of the list," he said.

McGregor plays down the possibility that the missile strikes were staged in reprisal to the November 26 attacks in Mumbai, India. But he suggests that another incident, last September's truck bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, which killed 50 people, may have prompted the attack.

"I would say it probably had very little to do with the Mumbai attacks and quite a bit to do as a kind of reprisal against the people who carried out the Marriott hotel bombing. And, both these people were involved in attacks targeting American personnel in the past, which made them really a priority target for the United States," he said.