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Suspected al-Qaida Operative Taken from Somalia - 2003-03-19

Kenya says its security forces working with Somali leaders have taken a suspected al-Qaida operative into custody.

Officials in the region say the unnamed al-Qaida suspect was flown from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

The Information Minister for Somalia's Transitional National Government, Abdurahman Aden, says the man was captured by a militia force and taken to a hospital in north Mogadishu on Tuesday. The militiamen then handed him over to the FBI.

"That man has been kidnapped by gangs and then after the exchange of guns they actually wounded him too and they took him to a hospital and then surrendered him actually to the Americans who are supervising the airport, whoever is getting in or coming out. So they said to him this is actually one of the al-Qaida suspects," he explained.

Mr. Aden said he could not confirm whether the man, reported to be a Yemeni national, is in fact a member of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

The U.S. government has been closely monitoring events in Somalia, where it says a lack of central authority is making the country a haven for terrorists.

Somalia's southern neighbor, Kenya, has twice been the victim of al-Qaida terrorist attacks in recent years. In 1998, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed, killing more than 200 people, most of them Kenyans.

Last November, 15 people were killed when a car bomb was driven into the reception area of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, near the coastal city of Mombasa. Agents from the FBI, Israel's Mossad and Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit have been searching for the bombers and their associates. An official close to the investigation says there is overwhelming evidence that Kenyans and Yemenis were involved in the attack.

Last week, the U.S. government issued a warning to its citizens not to travel to Kenya as it has received indications of terrorist threats in the region.