| The Mombasa Paradise hotel smoulders after attackers rammed a car into the hotel reception killing 14. (Reuters)
Mombasa (Kenya), Nov. 28 (Reuters): Suicide bombers blew up a hotel in Kenya today, killing 15 people, minutes after missiles narrowly missed an Israeli airliner taking off nearby, in apparently synchronised attacks on Israeli tourists.
Israeli and Kenyan officials swiftly blamed the al Qaida network but Washington said it was premature to point the finger at the group it holds responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
In a fax sent to Reuters by a Lebanese media organisation, the previously unheard-of “Army of Palestine” claimed responsibility for the Kenya attacks. Police said they were questioning two people seized near the scene of the hotel bomb.
Kenyan police said three Israeli hotel guests and nine Kenyans were believed to have died in the blast when attackers rammed a four-wheeled-drive jeep carrying explosives into the lobby of the Mombasa Paradise resort hotel. Israeli officials said two of the three Israelis killed were children.
Kenyan police commissioner Philemon Abong’o said three suicide bombers also died and Kenya’s ambassador to Israel said 80 people were wounded.
Minutes before the hotel blast, missiles were fired at an Israeli Arkia airliner carrying 261 passengers as it took off from Mombasa’s airport. They missed and the plane later landed safely in Israel escorted by Israel air force jets.
The attacks revived memories of the bloody 1998 truck bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people, blamed by Washington on al Qaida. The action also underscored what some analysts believe to be a growing breeding ground for international guerrillas in east Africa, created by unrest, poverty and lax security.
Witnesses described the scene of carnage at the hotel, where the bodies of welcoming dancers lay buried in the rubble of the lobby while rescuers tried to save the lives of two children beneath shattered palm trees outside.
“There was blood all around. There was fire all around; children looking for their parents, parents looking for their children,” said Yahud Saroni, Israeli owner of the hotel.
“The bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” said Farie Abdul Kadir, director of disaster relief for the Kenya Red Cross.
Wreckage of the bombers’ car was left 15 metres from the smouldering rubble of the entrance to the hotel. A human jaw lay on the ground near the mangled metal.
“Around 7.30, we heard a massive explosion. The entire building shook,” witness Kelly Hartog wrote on the website of Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“I saw people covered with blood, including children. Everyone seemed to be screaming. From the dining room we were herded out to the beach.
“I tried to occupy myself tending to the children. ‘I want to go home,’ they said. ‘Where are my parents'’”
Missiles miss plane
A Kenyan security source said it was believed attackers who targeted the Israeli airliner used shoulder-borne missile launchers. German intelligence sources described the weapons as Soviet produced SA 7 ground-to-air missiles. Police said the attack happened at 8.30 am (0530 GMT) and the suicide bombing five minutes later.
“About 2 km from the airport, two missiles were fired at the aircraft from a white Pajero (jeep) by some people who are suspected to be of Arab origin. Both missiles missed the aircraft,” the police said.
Ezra Gozlan, a passenger sitting at the back of the plane, said he saw a missile fly over the wing moments after take-off. “All the wheels were in the air and then we heard the explosion. It (the missile) went about one metre above the wing,” he said.