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US Praises Kenya for Anti-Terrorism Stance - 2003-05-20

American military commanders of the Djibouti-based anti-terror task force held talks with Kenyan government officials in Nairobi to discuss the heightened terrorist threat in the East African country. The task force is also working more closely with several other regional governments to strengthen cooperation in the war on terror.

The commander of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism task force, Marine Major General John Sattler, praised Kenya's minister of internal security, Chris Murungaru, for the minister's decision last week to warn the public of a renewed terrorist threat in Kenya.

Mr. Murungaru has defended his decision as being prudent, following the terrorist-related bombing of foreign compounds that killed 34 people in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

But the decision to warn the public also prompted a number of countries to issue travel warnings to Kenya and East Africa. Last Thursday, Great Britain banned all flights to Kenya indefinitely, dealing a severe blow to the country's economy that depends heavily on international tourism.

General Sattler says the Kenyan government showed courage and commitment to the global fight against terror.

"I think it was the right thing to do, and I have a new hero, based on how the minister stood tall in the face of tremendous criticism. And there may be an economic setback for a period of time," he said. "But now, if the whole nation rallies together, if everyone takes the stand, we will not permit a safe haven for terrorists inside the borders of Kenya, then the rest of the world sees that [and] all those things that should be here will in fact flow in."

General Sattler says Kenya is just one example of the growing anti-terrorism cooperation in the region with the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.

Since the task force was formally established in January, the commander says there has been a significant increase in intelligence-sharing and military training activities with the governments of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

The Djibouti-based task force has also added three Kenyan officers to its staff, to improve communication and intelligence gathering along Kenya's porous border with Somalia. The Kenyan government issued the terror alert last week after learning that terrorists based in Somalia had slipped back into Kenya to plan another attack.

Kenya has suffered two terrorist attacks in the past five years. In 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, killing more than 200 people, mostly Kenyans. Last November, a car bomb exploded at a hotel in the coastal resort of Mombasa, killing 11 Kenyans and three Israelis. Both attacks are blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist organization.

Kenya's Internal Security Minister Murungaru says the government is doing all it can to ensure that such attacks do not happen again.

"We ourselves have taken the position that while we acknowledge that the threat exists, we are dealing with that threat sufficiently, adequately, to give confidence to those who may have lost it, that Kenya is as safe as anywhere else in the world," he said.

Mr. Murungaru will soon be working closely with another U.S. Marine general, Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, who takes command of the task force Saturday.

General Sattler, who has headed the task force since its establishment, is scheduled to move to another position at the U.S. Central Command in the United States.