MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) – Kenya will not heed Israeli demands to turn over some evidence in the attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli jetliner, saying yesterday it would conduct the probe alone. The Israeli defense minister said al-Qaida was the main suspect in the attacks.
The dispute threatened to delay the investigation into the suicide bombing Thursday of an Israeli-owned hotel, which killed 15 people, and the failed downing of an Israeli charter jet moments earlier. American and Israeli leaders both questioned Kenya’s ability to conduct a thorough probe.
Kenyan police officials said Israeli authorities want to take pieces from a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Pajero that exploded outside the hotel on Thursday, killing 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the bombers inside. Israel also wants the launchers and missile casings from shoulder-launched rockets believed used in the failed attempt to shoot down the Israeli charter plane.
“None of this evidence is going back to Israel. This evidence is our responsibility,” Kenyan bomb specialist Charles Jamu said.
Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said from Jerusalem that Kenya had been cooperating “up to now,” but that the Kenyans weren’t prepared for the investigation.
“They were not geared to this kind of a threat or they don’t have the necessary resources or technological capabilities that would enable them to deal with that,” Gissin said.
Israel and the United States have pushed for a rigorous investigation in part because they believe it may have been orchestrated by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.
During an Israeli Cabinet meeting yesterday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he suspected al-Qaida was responsible for the attack, Gissin said.
“Formally, of course, we don’t have the conclusive evidence to prove unequivocally that it is al-Qaida, but the fingerprints clearly indicate that al-Qaida is involved,” Gissin said, referring to Mofaz’s remarks.
Jamu, the bomb specialist, said investigators found parts of two gas welding cylinders which they suspect were fastened to the vehicle’s underside to cause a bigger explosion at the Paradise Hotel 12 miles north of Mombasa.
One man, subsistence farmer Khamis Haro Deche, said a brown Pajero pulled into his yard near the hotel shortly after 8 a.m. last Thursday. He said the slight youngish man in the passenger seat told him in Arabic-accented and halting Kiswahili – Kenya’s official language – that he and the driver were waiting for friends coming from the hotel.
The farmer said the car had tinted windows – illegal in Kenya – and when he leaned inside to shake hands, he saw only two people – the driver, described as a stout middle-age man who did not speak, and the passenger, whom he described as nervous. Previous reports have said there were three terrorists.
Shortly after the car drove off in the direction of the hotel, there was an explosion that shook his house, he said. Survivors at the hotel said the blast occurred around 8:35 a.m.
“These are not good people; I shook hands with fire,” the farmer said in the light of a kerosene lantern outside his mud-and-palm thatch house. “If you shake hands with a fire, you will be burned,”
Although police were still holding several men from Pakistan and Somalia they had picked up from a boat in Mombasa’s port for questioning shortly after the attacks, there was no further comment yesterday on the progress of the investigation from inside Kenya.
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed Israel’s concerns about the probe in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”
“I imagine that it will be primarily U.S. and Israeli intelligence officers who will be trying to unravel what happened in Kenya last week,” he said.
Graham said the attacks had probably been carried out by a Somali-Kenyan group he called Islamyia, in conjunction with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
A day after the bombing, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, said initial suspicion centered on al-Qaida and al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a Somali Islamic group that was put on a list of international terrorist organizations after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on ABC’s “This Week,” also criticized “the negligence and the passivity of other countries that do not take forceful action” against terror networks.
Israel said it would also investigate why it was not aware of warnings that Germany and Australia issued two weeks before the attacks of possible terrorist threats.
Gissin said the Israelis never received any such warning, and urged more cooperation. He said Israel had to right to take pre-emptive action against future threats.
“For example, if we had a warning from Mombasa, we could take action to stop, to prevent them from taking those actions, this is something that is required since we’re not alone in this war,” Gissin said.
Kenya’s Internal Security and Defense Minister Julius Sunkuli told reporters Saturday he had no information about the warning.
One of the detained men, Mir Mohammed, a Pakistani in his 40s, said he and the five Pakistani and three Somalis who were detained had been fishing for sharks in the Indian Ocean off Somalia when the boat took on water, forcing them into Mombasa.
Somalia borders Kenya, and weapons and false passports are readily available there. American officials have said it was a haven for terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.