Skip to comments.Hunt Intensifies For Al-Qa'ida Suspect
Posted on 05/15/2003 4:41:36 PM PDT by blam
Hunt intensifies for al-Qa'ida suspect
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
16 May 2003
The international hunt is intensifying for an alleged senior al-Qa'ida operative charged with playing a central role in the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa and the attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa after he was reportedly sighted in neighbouring Somalia. His sighting - and the fear that he may be planning further attacks - appears to have been central to the security alerts which led British Airways to suspend its flights to Kenya.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Comoros islander also known as Harun, is accused of being the central coordinator of the 1998 embasssy bombings which killed 224 people in Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital Dar as Salaam. He is also believed to have been the lynchpin in the 2002 Mombassa attacks, in which 16 people died.
This week the Kenyan national security minister Chris Murungaru said that Mr Mohammed, 29, had been spotted in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu, and that he could already be operating inside Kenya. He circulated a photograph of Mr Mohammed - whose capture carries a $25m reward - and said he had ordered security forces to be placed on high alert.
"Given that this fellow has been sighted in Mogadishu and the information gathered is that he has been coming in and going out [of Kenya], then we have to be on high alert," said the ministry's spokesman Douglas Kaunda. "The minister said that there's already heightened surveillance of major installations, particularly western interests."
In March, Kenyan police arrested another suspected al-Qa'ida member in Mogadishu. Suleiman Abdalla, also accused of involvement in both terrorist attacks on Kenya, has since been extradited to the United States.
While Somalia has long been seen as a potential bolthole for fugitives, the possible sighting of Mr Mohammed will be of great concern to the FBI, who have placed him on its "Most Wanted List". In the aftermath of the 1998 bombing, in which declassified versions of confidential FBI reports suggest he had a central role, he is believed to have fled to the Comoros.
"Initial planning of the attacks against the US embassy at Nairobi seems to have begun in Spring 1998, with the movement of key personnel into East Africa," says one such FBI report. "In May 1998, Harun rented an estate home in an upscale residential neighborhood outside the centre of Nairobi at 43 Runda Estates. The home was isolated by high walls that surrounded the property, making it nearly impossible for any passerby to observe activity in and around the house.
"Moreover, the gated driveway was large enough to accommodate trucks, as was the garage. It is believed that the bomb used to destroy the US Embassy at Nairobi may have been constructed and actually stored at this location."
Despite the seizure of Mr Abdalla, officials will be aware that catching Mr Mohammed is no easy task. Fluent in French, Swahili, Arabic and English, he is known to use up to 19 aliases. "He likes to wear baseball caps and tends to dress casually. He is very good with computers," says the entry on the FBI's list.
The concern about a possible attack has been high enough for the US to urge its citizens to postpone non-essential trips to Kenya. It said any attack could be timed to coincide with Thursday's celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, "Maulid".
Following last November's failed attempt to shoot down a plane carrying Israeli tourists from a holiday resort near Mombassa, the State Department made a specific warning about air travel. "The threat to aircraft by terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles continues in Kenya, including Nairobi," it said.
A Somali-based group of Islamists linked to al-Qa'ida, Al-Itihad al-Islamiya, were rapidly named by the Kenyan authorities as the prime suspects in that attack, though some experts doubted this.