US Air Strike: How a phoney passport led the FBI to the lair of the embassy bombers lll

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE WAS a grim inevitability to the identification of the terrorist organisation responsible for the attacks on the American embassies although early on a US official had said, as news of the carnage in Africa broke in Washington: "We have no suspects. Everything is up for grabs."

Commentators were going through the list of American-haters and baiters. "There is Iraq, the Middle East - you name it. There are people who blame America for anything that is going wrong," said one diplomatic observer.

Yet the fingers were beginning to all point the same way. "Osama bin Laden is an obvious focus of interest. Sudan is a good possibility," said the same observer.

American officials were already promising vengeance when the perpetrators were identified. But they were only too aware that they had to have proof before they hit out, or risk international condemnation.

"While there might be instant gratification to do something about the attack on the US, we have to be absolutely sure we have the facts straight," said the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, the day after the bombing.

United States FBI agents had arrived on the scene of the Nairobi bombing within hours. They concentrated looking for evidence in the remains of the embassy compound. Outside on the rest of the demolished building untrained rescuers had destroyed any forensic science evidence.

Within a day the President's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, was saying: "There is information to work with."

The careful trawling of the compounds produced evidence of the method of the bombing - explosives packed in vehicles. Was it Semtex or home- made explosive?

Semtex would suggest a sophisticated, well-supplied terrorist organisation. Initially there had been some friction over the arrival of FBI agents on the scene and their failure to engage in rescue, preferring to continue their work in the compounds.

After some fast diplomatic footwork Washington and Nairobi agreed for the FBI and Kenya's Criminal Investigation Department to work together on the investigation. A similar arrangement was arrived at in Tanzania.

"The two countries," said Mr Clinton, "are working very closely with our attempts to find those who are responsible." Ms Albright on behalf of the United States offered a $2m reward for information leading to the capture of the terrorists.

Two days after the bombing the Tanzanian assistant police commissioner, Wilson Mwan-sasu, announced that there had been raids. These, he said somewhat enigmatically, were "connected to others". Three days later a number of suspects - known Islamic hard-liners - were arrested in Nairobi.

On 13 August, the Americans buried their 12 dead. The media, however, were focusing on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire and self- proclaimed fundamentalist terrorist leader, holed up in Afghanistan.

Behind the scenes a breakthrough was taking place. On the day of the bombing the Pakistan police had arrested a man arriving from Kenya on a Yemeni passport but immigration authorities noticed the photograph did not match the carrier.

Under interrogation he began to crack, admitting he was really a Palestinian engineer called Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. Gradually he boasted he had been the mastermind behind the Nairobi bombing. He was part of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation.

It was arranged for Odeh to be shipped back to Nairobi. When he arrived he explained to the FBI and Kenyan CID that he had booked into The Hilltop hotel in Nairobi four days before the bombing with three accomplices. The bomb had been completed the day before the attack.

Pakistani papers had reported that Odeh had confessed to working for Bin Laden. This, in its way suited the American purposes.

This was the "hard facts" they needed before acting. Two days ago the world was bracing for an American attack. The diplomats in the American embassy in Karachi - the nearest to Bin Laden's liar in Afghanistan - retreated behind the razor wire.

Yesterday, the Taliban, Bin Laden's hosts, vowed to defend him. "Even if all the countries of the world unite, we would defend Osama by our blood," the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said.

Osama Bin Ladin kept in contact with journalists around the world, using his sophisticated phone system.

There can be little doubt that the United States National Security Agency was using satellite intelligence to make sure Bin Laden was in his compound. It might have even been the phone call he had made to a Pakistani journalist in Karachi, three hours before the attack, that had been the trigger.





Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar: "We strongly condemn the American attack. This attack is not against Osama [bin Laden] but is a demonstration of enmity for the Afghan people."

Sudanese interior minister Abdel-Raheem Mohammed: "[The target of the bombing in Khartoum] is not chemical weapons, it is a factory for medical drugs. We have no chemical weapons factory in our country. We have no chemical weapons factories at all."

Prime Minister Tony Blair: "The atrocities this month in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Omagh have shown the pain and suffering that terrorism can bring to innocent people. I strongly support this American action."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Satraj Aziz: "No facilities were provided by Pakistan. We are naturally against terrorism, but this kind of [US] intrusion appears to be unfortunate."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu : "The prime minister welcomes the US decision to strike targets of terrorists in Sudan and Afghanistan."

A 33-year-old Palestinian, Hussan Mustafa: "This is another American aggression against the Muslims."

'The Nation' newspaper of Kenya: "What they do is up to them ... we can't say good or bad. I think we are bystanders in this."