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Nine suspects to appear in court over Mombasa attacks

28th November 2003

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Nine suspects are due to appear in court in Kenya on murder charges today, a year to the day after an attack on a hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa killed 18 people, including three presumed suicide bombers.

A judge last week adjourned the trial of six of the suspects, to allow their case to be consolidated with two others.

The suspects, all Kenyan Muslims, have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder brought over the suicide attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa. Twelve Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the attack, along with three presumed suicide bombers.

One of the suspects, businessman Omar Said Omar, is also accused of being one of the brains behind the attack and of helping other suspects flee to neighbouring Somalia following the attack.

The Mombasa attacks highlighted the enormous security challenges faced by Kenya, which has long, remote frontiers with Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, but has limited financial and human resources to patrol them.

The United Nations has said in a report published early this month that Somalia served as a rear base for extremists who planned and carried out the bombing, which occurred simultaneously with a failed missile attack on an Israeli charter jet that had just taken off from Mombasa airport.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

According to the UN report, the missiles fired at the charter jet were smuggled into Kenya by sea from Somalia in August last year, three months before the attack.

Kenyan police are still hunting for Ali Saleh Nabhan – a brother of one of the suspects due in court today - suspected of having bought the car used in the suicide attack on the Paradise Hotel, and of allowing the bomb used in the explosion to be built up in his apartment.

They are also hunting Comoran national Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, already on a wanted list in the US for his alleged involvement in twin attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, in which 224 people died.

Mohammed dodged a police dragnet in August, when an alleged accomplice set off a grenade, killing himself and a Kenyan policeman.

Last Friday, High Court judge John Osiemo adjourned the trials of the nine suspects, at the request of the prosecution, saying it would be prudent to see if all three cases could be consolidated on today, the first anniversary the attack.

The defense accused the prosecution of trying to delay the trial, but prosecutor John Gacivih disagreed.

"Investigating terrorism is not like investigating other crimes, it involves a lot of work and time," Gacivih told the court.

Gacivih said investigators had enough evidence to prosecute the suspects, but defence lawyer Maobe Mao said only "circumstantial evidence that does not link the suspects to the actual bombing" had been gathered. – Sapa-AFP.
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