The car bombing attack on the Paradise Hotel in the resort town of Mombassa killed 16 including 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three bombers. The hotel, a popular vacation spot for Israeli tourists, was severely damaged in the blast and the resulting fire.
About five minutes before the hotel explosion, unknown attackers fired two missiles at a Boeing 757 Israeli charter aircraft owned by Arkia Airlines as it left Mombasa airport bound for Tel Aviv, Israel. The pilots avoided the SA-7 rockets and landed safely in Israel with all 271 passengers and crew unhurt.
A previously unknown group called the Army of Palestine issued a statement from Beirut, Lebanon late Thursday claiming responsibility for the attacks. The group said the assaults were timed to “to strike at Israeli interests” on the eve of the anniversary of the 1947 decision by the United Nations to allow for the creation of the modern Jewish state.
Despite these claims, U.S. and Israeli officials told media outlets they believe the attacks are the work of the al-Qaida network headed by Osama bin Laden and blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Investigators in Kenya have not said whether they believe it is the work of al-Qaida, whose operatives bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in Aug. 1998, killing 231 people.
“We can’t rule out the group that struck at us in 1998,” Kenyan Vice President Musalia Mudavadi said.
Kenyan police officials swept the area arresting and detaining anyone with possible links to the attack. Of the 12 confirmed detained, at least one is an American from Florida. Reportedly she and her husband, a Spanish national, checked out of a hotel nearby some 20 minutes after the blast. The two were taken in for questioning, but according to U.S. sources, it appeared the two had nothing to do with the attack and would be released soon.
All Kenyan authorities would say publicly was that the investigation was continuing.
“Only one among those held is a Kenyan. Eleven are non-Kenyan,” police spokesman Kingori Mwangi told Reuters in the capital Nairobi.
Meanwhile, Israel began to marshal its resources to find and punish those responsible for the strikes.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who Thursday also easily won the nomination of his party for another term over his more hawkish foreign minister, pledged to hunt down those who attacked Israel in a grim victory speech.
“The world campaign against terror must become real, tangible and uncompromising, aimed against every terror organization and those who give them shelter everywhere and at all times,” Sharon said during his speech that had begun with a moment of silence for the dead. “Our long arm will get those who carried out the terror attacks. No one will be forgiven.”
Sharon has ordered Israel’s Mossad intelligence force to investigate the attack and U.S. officials have already sent FBI and other investigators to assist in the hunt for those responsible.