Suspects on Trial for 2002 Kenya Bombing
By ROB JILLO
The Associated Press
Monday, February 2, 2004; 8:57 AM
NAIROBI, Kenya - Four Kenyan men charged with murder in the car bombing of a Kenya costal resort planned the attack with other al-Qaida operatives, a prosecutor told a Nairobi court Monday as the suspects' trial got underway after months of delays.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Edwin Okello told the Nairobi High Court that the four men had connections with Osama bin Laden's terror network dating to January 2002.
Okello said the four had "frequent communication with network members" and "they rented...houses for short periods, moving from one house to another to avoid suspicion."
Al-Qaida has twice struck Kenya, and Monday's trial, along with another trial of three other al-Qaida suspects on lesser charges, are the first attempts by authorities in the East African country to seek convictions against alleged terrorists.
Prosecutors have amassed circumstantial evidence linking six of the seven suspects to the attack, according to pretrial statements seen by The Associated Press. Authorities have said witness testimony and physical evidence will implicate the defendants.
But there appears to be little direct proof, according to the 164 statements from witnesses and investigators. This leads critics to charge Kenyan authorities with trying the men because of pressure from the United States, which has criticized Kenya's anti-terror efforts.
The first witness called Monday, Issa Kombo Issa, testified that he lost his national identity card in 1997 and that in December 2002, police called him in to identify photos that turned out to be of him. Authorities believe that one of the suspects, Omar Said Omar, used the alias Issa Kombo Issa when renting houses in the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.
Omar, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, Mohamed Kubwa and Mohammed Ali Saleh Nabhan have been charged with 15 counts of murder for the Nov. 28, 2002, bombing of the Paradise Hotel north of Mombasa, an attack that killed 15 people, including three Israeli tourists. All four suspects have pleaded innocent.
At about the same time the car bomb struck the hotel, several men fired two surface-to-air missiles that missed an Israeli charter airliner taking off from nearby Mombasa airport.
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network claimed responsibility for the attacks in November 2002 as well as the nearly simultaneous August 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam in neighboring Tanzania, which killed 231 people, including 12 Americans.
The other three Kenyan suspects are being tried on charges of conspiracy for their alleged roles in the hotel and embassy bombings, the attempt to shoot down the airliner and an alleged plot to destroy the new U.S. Embassy in Nairobi last June.
The trial of the four men is expected to last at least a month. If convicted, they face a possible death sentence.
© 2004 The Associated Press