| An Israeli girl, injured in the Paradise hotel explosion, being treated in a Mombasa hospital. (AP/PTI)
Mombasa (Kenya), Nov. 29 (Reuters): Police said today they were holding 12 foreigners over the twin bomb and missile attacks on Israeli tourists in Mombasa, after Israel vowed to hunt down all those behind the bloodbath.
“We have one American lady, one Spanish man... there are six Pakistanis and four Somalis,” a Kenyan police spokesman said. The US State Department said among those held were an American woman and her non-American husband, a permanent US resident.
Suicide bombers drove a car into the lobby of the Israeli-owned Mombasa Paradise beach hotel and blew it up, killing 15 people, minutes after missiles were fired at a plane full of Israeli tourists taking off nearby early yesterday.
Al Qaida remained prime targets of suspicion. There was no publicised evidence against the network, but analysts said the synchronisation of the raids was a hallmark of al Qaida operations and speculated that the group’s first direct attacks on Israelis were intended to rally Muslim support.
The first two people detained said they were from Florida, the manager of Le Soleil Beach Club, Ben Wafula, said.
He said the “Italian or Spanish” looking man and the blonde woman checked into his hotel on November 26 and had tried to check out last morning, about two hours after the suicide bombing of the Paradise Hotel.
Wafula said the pair were detained after his staff made a routine call to police, who had asked all hotels in the area to notify them of any people checking out following the blast. The couple had phoned Spain soon after the bomb blast, he added.
It was unclear what evidence the police had against the 12 detainees. The Pakistanis and Somalis now being questioned were arrested early yesterday for entering Kenya illegally and only later came under suspicion by investigators probing the anti-Israeli attacks, police said.
Israeli and US experts pored over the wreckage of the Paradise and the suicide bombers’ car.
“A Pajero passed the hotel gates then, after a few minutes, came back and passed the gate again. On the third trip it came and swerved into the hotel,” said hotel security guard Justin Mundu, standing amid charred palm trees stripped of leaves.
Israeli survivors were flown home in an Israeli air force plane which also brought back the bodies of the three Israelis killed, two brothers aged 13 and 15, and a 61-year-old man. Among the other victims were Kenyan dancers who had been welcoming tourists in the hotel lobby when the bomb went off.
“Terrorism is dangerous, not only to Europe and the United States, but also to Africa, and we must fight it,” Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi said as he inspected the ruins.
Mombasa is a mostly Muslim city with links to the Arab world. Prominent Islamist Abubakar Awadh, an official of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said: “If this was done to Israelis alone, it would be a worthy cause.” He said he was speaking in a personal capacity.
Israeli and Kenyan officials have been quick to blame Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network. But the White House said it was too soon to blame the group it accuses of mounting the September 11 attacks and the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 224 people died, most of them Africans.
The previously unheard-of “Army of Palestine” claimed responsibility in a faxed statement. There was no confirmation.
“Our long arm will catch the attackers and those who dispatch them,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said after his Likud party re-elected him as its leader yesterday ahead of Israel’s January 28 general election. “Israel will hunt down those who spilled the blood of its citizens. No one will emerge unscathed.”