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War on Terrorism - 2002-12-04


On the War on Terrorism front, Indonesian police say they have arrested the suspected operations leader of the regional Muslim militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. Ali Gufron, also known as Mukhlas, was reportedly taken into custody along with seven other people. Authorities refused to say whether those arrested have any connection to October’s bombings in Bali. Meanwhile, there are more and more indications the al-Qaida terrorist network is responsible for last week’s bombing attack in Kenya and a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an airliner. Deborah Block has the details.

In Mombasa, Kenya, investigators are continuing their painstaking task, sifting through the rubble of an Israeli owned sea-side resort, looking for any clues that could shed more light on the tragedy that happened there. On Thursday last week three men drove their explosives-laden vehicle into the Mombasa Paradise Resort-Hotel, popular among Israeli tourists seeking to get away from the unrest and violence at home.

"There was a very big bomb near the lobby and the whole roof started to go on fire, and I think the most people that got hurt, some of the people from us got hurt, and some of the people welcoming us also got hurt."

In addition to the three suicide bombers, three Israelis and ten Kenyans died. Minutes before the hotel blast two missiles were fired at an Israeli Arkia Airlines plane as it took off from Mombasa with 261 passengers onboard. The rockets missed and the plane made it back to Israel without further incident. Arkia pilot Rafi Marik.

"We saw two white stripes coming up from behind the airplane, on the left side, and a bit above us, passing us from behind to the front of the airplane and disappearing after a few seconds."

Two Russian-made shoulder-fired missile launchers were later discovered in a field near Mombasa airport. There were immediate suspicions that the al-Qaida terrorist network was behind both the bombing and the missile attack. Kenya’s ambassador to Israel John Sawe

"We have no domestic problems, no terrorists in our country, and we don't have any problem with our neighboring countries, our neighbors, we have no problem whatsoever. So I have no doubt whatsoever that this must be connected with al-Qaeda."

These suspicions were given more credence this week when an Islamist web site posted a purported al-Qaida claim taking credit for last week’s attacks. The Arabic Al-Jazeera television network also reported receiving an e-mail from al-Qaida with a similar claim.

In addition, one of the suicide bombers in the attack on the Israeli-owned hotel has been identified as a member of a known al-Qaida cell. And the serial numbers of the missile launchers found at Mombassa airport are reportedly from the same batch as a missile launcher used in a failed al-Qaida attempt to down a U.S. war plane in Saudi Arabia last June. Counter-terrorism expert Vince Cannistraro.

“The SA-7 fired in Saudi Arabia was identified as an al-Qaida operation. The person who ultimately fired the weapon talked and he revealed the names of several other members of the al-Qaida cell.”

The failed missile attacks in Kenya and Saudi Arabia have raised fears that terrorists might try to shoot down airliners elsewhere in the world, including the United States, according to defense expert John Pike.

“Terrorists would not have a terribly hard time finding somebody, somewhere who would sell them some of these missiles.”

The shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles are produced in Russia, China and Pakistan, among other countries. They are commonly traded on the black market. The cost: as low as $5000.

Then there are fears about the far more sophisticated American-made Stinger missiles. Hundreds of stingers were given to Afghan guerillas to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. The U-S Central Intelligence Agency is now reportedly trying to buy back those that remaiN, to make sure that they do not fall into the wrong hands.