Kenyans in court over attacks on jet and hotel

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The Independent Online

Four Kenyans were charged with 13 counts of murder yesterday in last November's twin terrorist attacks on Israeli tourists at the Indian Ocean coast. The men, an Islamic preacher, a teacher and a father and son, stood impassively as prosecutors listed the victims of the bombing of the beachfront Paradise Hotel.

Four Kenyans were charged with 13 counts of murder yesterday in last November's twin terrorist attacks on Israeli tourists at the Indian Ocean coast. The men, an Islamic preacher, a teacher and a father and son, stood impassively as prosecutors listed the victims of the bombing of the beachfront Paradise Hotel.

At least 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and three suicide bombers died in the strike, believed to be the work of al-Qa'ida. A near-simultaneous missile attack on a departing Israeli passenger jet failed.

The suspects, who did not enter a plea due to prosecution delays, were named as Kubwa Muhammed Seif, a town councillor, his son Muhammed Kubwa, Aboud Rogo Mohammed and Said Saggar Ahmed. Three of them had been arrested months ago for harbouring an illegal alien, believed to be Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an al-Qa'ida fugitive wanted for the November attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi.

Kenya is on high alert amid fears of a fresh terrorist attack, but the tensions have also erupted into bitter recriminations over the crippling economic impact it has caused. The new, fortress-like US embassy has been closed since Friday when US intelligence warned of an "imminent" strike on a specific target. British Airways flights from London to Nairobi remain suspended, although passengers are still being flown from neighbouring Uganda in unmarked charter jets.

Security has been heightened at expatriate haunts. Armed police with sniffer dogs search cars entering upmarket shopping malls, cinema patrons are frisked and some people are avoiding clubs. Even the apparently invincible wizard Harry Potter has been hit. Last Saturday, only a trickle of customers ventured into a prominent Nairobi bookstore to pick up their copy of The Order of the Phoenix.

"It was strangely quiet," said Chand Bahal of Book Stop in the Yaya Centre, where customers fled a month ago after text messages surged round Nairobi warning of an impending attack on the centre. "Even people who had reserved a copy rang to apologise. They were too scared to come."

But for most Kenyans, terrorism's greatest threat is to tourism, among the prime foreign currency earners. Empty tents in safari parks and echoing corridors at beachfront resorts are signs of a flood of recent cancellations. The Kenya Tourism Federation says occupancy rates in most hotels have fallen to between zero and 20 per cent. Losses are averaging about £600,000 a day and thousands of jobs are being lost. "Our business is on the verge of collapse," Jake Grieves Cook, the chairman, said.

The Safari Park, one of Nairobi's largest hotels, has lost £122,000 of business and one fifth of the 285 workers are on unpaid leave, Mike Round-Turner, the general manager, said. "The banks are calling every day; one of my suppliers won't send product. Everyone is affected, right down to the guy who delivers tomatoes to my back door."

Tourists who wish to ignore the travel advisories are blocked by insurance companies that refuse to offer cover in Kenya. There is widespread resentment among the 500,000 Kenyans directly or indirectly dependent on tourism. Mr Grieves Cook said: "The idea that someone in a safari camp is at greater risk than a London hotel is laughable."

European countries such as German and Italy have lifted their travel warnings, but the US and UK say Kenya's internal security, marred by historical corruption and scant resources, must first improve. "They [the US] are the people who started this thing of terrorism," Dominic Mariga, an idle taxi driver in central Nairobi said: "But they are passing the buck and blaming us."

Last week, the US ambassador, Johnnie Carson, criticised Kenya's failure to apprehend al-Qa'ida suspects, comments thought to have triggered yesterday's court appearance. Other measures have also been taken. Air traffic with Somalia, which is accused of harbouring al-Qa'ida sympathisers, has been suspended. And the Kenyan army, aided by British advisers, has secured the flight-path into Jomo Kenyatta airport.

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