Saudi dissidents linked to bombs

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The Independent Online
A GROUP which wants to throw American forces out of Saudi Arabia last night claimed responsibility for the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which have killed more than 140 people.

By late yesterday the death toll in Nairobi stood at 133, with as many as 4,000 injured. In Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam, nine were killed and 73 injured. It was the first simultaneous attack on the US co-ordinated across two countries, indicating the considerable infrastructure and expertise of those responsible.

Kenyan, American, British and Israeli rescuers were desperately scrambling through the wreckage in Nairobi, seeking survivors from the massive car bomb that wrecked the embassy, destroyed a neighbouring building and and blew out glass for a mile around. The recovery late last night of a survivor fed hope that others were still alive beneath the mountain of debris.

While the US mourned 11 nationals, Nairobi was struggling to come to terms with what amounted to a national disaster. Yesterday Kenya began five days of official mourning. "We are just very quiet today," said Alphonse Warenga, who was caught up in the blast. "It seems we just cannot believe it happened or that people would be so callous."

Mr Warenga was waiting for a bus a street away from the US embassy when the bomb exploded on Friday morning. "There was just so much dust, and glass was raining down. Glass stuck in the stomach of a woman in the queue. I don't think she made it. There was so much screaming and so much blood."

"No matter how long it takes, or where it takes us, we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done," President Bill Clinton said in his weekly radio address yesterday. He met senior officials at the White House last night, and the US compiled a list of those who might have had the motivation and capability to mount such attacks. It included many of the usual suspects - Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan, according to the White House.

But sources in Washington and Pakistan indicated that the main lines of investigation led to groups from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two US allies which face internal opposition from Islamist groups opposed to their regimes.

Statements sent to media in the Gulf yesterday claimed responsibility in the name of the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places, a name similar to that of an organisation which had earlier called the Cairo office of the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat.

"The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places announces responsibility for the Nairobi bombing under the name Operation Holy Qaaba," the statements said, adding that the Tanzanian bombing was codenamed "Operation al-Aqsa Mosque". The Qaaba, in Mecca, and Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem are two of the most holy sites for Muslims.

The group said that it represented "Islamic holy warriors from all countries of the world" who were protesting against the occupation of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia by America.

The Nairobi bombing, it said, was carried out by two men from Mecca, while an Egyptian staged the Dar es Salaam attack. The statements also called for the release of Islamists held in the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The bombings came on the eighth anniversary of the US decision to dispatch troops to Saudi Arabia after the invasion of neighbouring Kuwait by Iraq. The understanding then was that the presence of US forces on Saudi soil would be temporary, but eight years later the forces are still there, the focus of resentment for the Saudi opposition.

One of the leading figures in the campaign to throw the US out of Saudi Arabia is Osama bin Laden, the millionaire former Saudi businessman who is a central figure in co-ordinating and financing of Islamist groups throughout the world.

He has warned the US several times that unless its forces withdrew, US targets would be attacked. Pakistani security sources say that Mr bin Laden recently held a meeting with representatives of an unidentified Arab government in south-western Afghanistan, where he has been based.

Earlier this year Mr bin Laden led an effort by Egyptian, Saudi, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups to form a common front under the label of the International Islamic Front. One of its key demands is the withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani security sources said that a group called Jamaat al-Jihad was formed from Saudis who have been expelled from the country. It had warned of reprisals for US assistance in the extradition of Islamists from Europe and the Middle East. An Egyptian group called Jihad, which also signed up to the common Islamic front, issued similar warnings to the US last week after its members were extradited from Albania to Egypt.

Dozens of US investigators began arriving in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam yesterday to begin piecing together the evidence. The US has also dispatched dozens of medical experts to Africa - Nairobi airport was crowded with US Air Force planes and medical supplies.

There was criticism in the Kenyan capital, however, of the failure of the US to participate in the rescue operation in its embassy's neighbouring building, where many Kenyans were trapped or died. US armed forces left rescue efforts there to Kenyans and special Israeli teams, preferring, it seemed, to concentrate on missing Americans and securing possible clues to the identity of the bombers.

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