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Terrorist Attacks in Kenya

November 29, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: For more [on Thursday’s terrorist attacks], we go to Bruce Hoffman, the editor-in- chief of the scholarly journal “Studies in Conflict and Terrorism” and director of the Washington office of RAND, a research corporation; and George Ayittey, professor of economics at American University here in Washington. He is from Ghana. Bruce Hoffman, had this long been anticipated, an attack on a commercial jet using a surface-to-air missile?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Yes, absolutely. Indeed, over the past 20 years or so — 20 plus years in fact — there have been a series of attacks mounted by both terrorists and particularly by guerrilla groups, often with success.

RAY SUAREZ: Against commercial?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Commercial and military, yes.

RAY SUAREZ: How come this– given that these missiles are apparently not all that uncommon, why did it take so long for us to see an attack like the one launched yesterday?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: As we just heard, although I think there is a common misconception that these things are fire and forget type of weapons and don’t require a very large skill base, in point of fact, soldiers in established militaries train repeatedly on simulators before they even get to fire a missile.

They’re actually quite difficult to use; they weigh about 16 pounds, their battery is very short so you’ve got to engage the target very quickly. So you have to know what you’re doing. And I think that’s really the main reason why terrorists haven’t used them for more often is that for terrorists the guarantee of success is very important. This weapon isn’t necessarily a reliable one.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, when you talk about the need for training, are we talking about weeks, months? How long would it take someone who joins up with an irregular outfit like a terrorist group, to gain enough expertise to use a weapon like this?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: I should especially if they’ve had prior military training, perhaps not long. After all, in the conflict in Afghanistan against the Red Army, the Mujahaddin used Stingers, a better class than the weapons fired yesterday at the Israeli aircraft, and they achieved about a 79 percent kill rate.

RAY SUAREZ: How do these weapons, which are produced mostly for national militaries, often by companies that are owned by the government, how do they find their way out into the black market for arms?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Unfortunately very easily. More than 50 countries throughout the world manufacture their own version of the Stinger or the Stinger class surface-to-air missile. When you think that nearly a third of the word’s countries manufacture them, virtually every country in the world’s arsenal has it, has this type of weapon.

On the black market, they can go for upwards of fifty to eighty thousand dollars, especially these older SAM 7’s or Strelas, probably for a lot less, so unfortunately, especially with the end of the Cold War, with the arms market being flooded with surplus equipment, perhaps less effective or competent ones are out there, but there’s certainly I think a sufficient supply.

RAY SUAREZ: The attack on the ground was a more low-tech and all too familiar affair, a car bomb. But the use of this two-pronged attack – a car bomb on the ground at just about the same time that the attack on the jetliner, does that tell you anything about what kind group is at work?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, it is a group that is able to do more than one thing at one time, which is actually quite interesting because in the history of terrorism, there are many groups who have had those aspirations, but very few of them have been able to especially pull off spectacular attacks, suicide attack, which tragically has become more prosaic and common now, but then the more innovative attack such as using a surface-to-air missile against a commercial aircraft.

RAY SUAREZ: And has Kenya been a staging place, a target for these kinds of activities very often?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, certainly, in 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed. There has been that kind of activity in that part of the world; in fact just in September an al-Qaida operative from Yemen was apprehended trying to enter Kenya on false – with false documentation. So it’s clear, I think, that as the shoe pinches very tightly for terrorist in other corners of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Europe, North America and South Asia, that they’ll look for what they interpret as more benign, more accessible, softer operational environments.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ayittey, why, in your view, was Kenya an easy place to do this?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, Ray, let me say that this is the third time such an attack has occurred in Kenya. The first one was in November 1979 when the Norfolk Hotel was blown up by Islamic fundamentalist groups in retaliation against Kenya for allowing the Israelis to use Kenya as a staging area to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.

And the second was as Bruce mentioned, August 1998 when the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, and this particular occurrence, but you see, what it says is that the level of security in Kenya has been very, very lax, and it has been a lot easier for terrorist organizations to penetrate.

As a matter of fact, this is very, very disturbing and it is very dangerous because we are talking about the penetration of very highly sophisticated shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missiles in an African country and it has the potential to destabilize the East African region. The reason why I’m saying this is because Kenya is a country which has been a bastion of stability in that particular region, it’s surrounded by countries which have been torn by civil war; Sudan, for example, and also Somalia and we also have Rwanda and Burundi.

So it is a development and also strictly from the African point of view, it constitutes a rape of African hospitality, because see we are talking about some kind of religious imperialism in that particular region, because lest people forget, a good percentage in Islam are not indigenous to Africa, and there has been a clash between the Israelis and Arabs. A lot of Africans are very enraged and outraged by this particular incident because–

RAY SUAREZ: But in the particular case of Kenya, hadn’t there been an indigenous Islamic presence for centuries along the coast?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Oh, yes, there have been.

RAY SUAREZ: Haven’t Christians and Muslims lived side by side in Kenya?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Oh, yes, they have lived side by side, but at the same time, many Africans recognize that both Christianity and Islam are foreign religions and it is not something which should be imposed upon Africans by force, as has been happening and as is happening in Sudan, in Mauritania, in fact, where blacks are still being enslaved by Arabs.

So the way most Africans look at this is slightly different from the western perspective. And that is why I use the term abuse of African hospitality because Africans have always welcomed Arabs in the eastern part of East Africa, whereas, the Arabs, as far as black Africans are concerned, are no different from the Europeans. Both were colonizers; both were enslavers; whereas, the Europeans were running the West African slave trade, the Arabs were running the East African slave trade. More than two million — twenty million Africans were shipped out of East Africa to Arabia.

And also let me point out that in August of 1998, after the bombing, twin bombings of the U.S. Embassies, there was no Arab aid to Kenya, for example, though the U.S. aid that was provided was somewhat criticized as being inadequate – no other Arab country condemned that attack or even provided humanitarian assistance to the victims.

RAY SUAREZ: Is Kenya capable of sealing its borders against its more unstable neighbors? I know there have been refugee crises in the past where as things got worse in neighbors, a lot of those people floated into Kenya. Is that something that threatens the future health of the nation?

GEORGE AYITTEY: It would. And there are two factors here: African borders are very, very porous, and it is so easy to sort of ooze one’s way through these borders. And that’s one of the reasons why we have a lot of Somalia refugees in Kenya.

The second is that Kenya’s security is all geared up to protect the ruling regime. And as a matter of fact, there’s far more tighter security right and protection, tighter security and clamped down against dissidents within the country and opposition figures than there are in protecting the borders against foreign infiltrators.

But another complicating factor is that we are hoping that the Kenyan government doesn’t use this as a pretext to clamp down on opposition because there are national elections in December. And it is something in terms of security. We’ve heard that the Moian government – he’s been in power for more than 22 years and it’s a government which most Africans consider to have been a failure. You know, it’s corrupt and autocratic and President Moi has been there for more than 22 years. The security situation in Kenya, both Kenya and Tanzania have been very, very lax. Although after the August 1998 bombing, they promised and did step up security.

RAY SUAREZ: Does this mean, Bruce Hoffman, that those intelligence agencies, national militaries that are trying to track the growth and spread of terrorism now have to look well down the East Coast of Africa when taking a look at the world and looking at possible hot spots and threats?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Yes, I think so, as if there were any further proof needed to be provided, certainly we are in a global war against terrorism. Al-Qaida, we know, has had operational cells in at least 60 countries throughout the world. I think as we attack them, as we make it more difficult for them to operate in their traditional stomping grounds, they’re obviously going to find and seek out places where they see a more benign, a more convivial operational environment.

RAY SUAREZ: There is a large Islamic community across Western Africa, East Africa.


RAY SUAREZ: Are these places now that are radicalizing?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Yes. You know, you look at what recently happened in Nigeria, for example, the beauty pageant being cancelled; and it is somewhat of an irony – brutal irony – that Africans should be killing themselves over foreign religions. And even in neighboring Ivory Coast, for example, the country is also on the verge of – there’s now renewed fighting on the Ivory Coast; the country’s split between the Muslim North and the Christian South, so a lot of Africans have viewed these developments and they’re very dangerous and it can destabilize. That’s why I use the term religious imperialism in Africa.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ayittey, Mr. Hoffman, thank you both.