A fisherman who lives less than two miles from the Israeli-owned hotel that was bombed here Thursday said that minutes before the attack he noticed a four-wheel-drive vehicle idling on his property with two men inside who were acting suspiciously.
But Khamis Haro Deche, who lives in a mud hut and earns no more than $6 a week, said he did not call the police because he does not have a telephone.
Deche said that he approached the men in the vehicle and that the man in the passenger's seat said they were waiting for a friend. The driver shook Deche's hand but said nothing, Deche recalled. The driver appeared to be trying to hide something on the passenger's lap, blocking Deche's view when he peeked into the car. But Deche was able to see 10 cellular phones on the dashboard.
"I shook hands with fire and I didn't know," Deche said. "My heart is burned. They have spoiled our life in Kenya."
Deche, 39, might have been one of the last people to speak to the bombers before they blew up the Paradise Hotel. He gave police the vehicle's license plate number, which he said he remembered because he was concerned that the men would commit a robbery in the area.
The details of the encounter were the latest clues in the investigation of the terrorist attacks on two Israeli targets in Mombasa. At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a green Mitsubishi Pajero packed with explosives crashed into the hotel lobby, killing 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and three bombers. Moments earlier, two shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles narrowly missed a Boeing 757 as it took off from Mombasa's airport bound for Tel Aviv.
Israeli and Kenyan officials say Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network is the main suspect in the attack. Al Qaeda is widely blamed for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 224 people died, most of them Africans.
Kenyan police are holding 10 suspects they seized from a boat. But Israeli officials questioned their involvement in the attacks because they have been detained since Monday.
U.S. officials have said a likely suspect might be al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, a Somali group with links to al Qaeda that is active in East Africa.
But as investigators picked through the debris today, questions remained about who committed the acts and how the attackers were able to bring the weapons into the country.
With tensions increasing over the speed and accuracy of the investigation, Kenyan and Israeli officials sparred today over who would handle the evidence. Kenyan police said they had found two bomb fragments, which Israeli bomb experts said they wanted to take back to Israel to be analyzed.
"None of this evidence is going back to Israel. This evidence is our responsibility," a Kenyan bomb specialist, Charles Jamu, told the Associated Press.
Parts of the vehicle believed used in the attack were found nearly 3,000 feet from the site, Jamu said. Investigators also found parts of two gas welding cylinders that they suspect were tied to the vehicle's underside to create a bigger explosion at the hotel 12 miles north of Mombasa.
Chaos filled the crime scene today, with passersby able to pick up and sift through pieces of evidence. Parts of the vehicle were left out in the rain, and Israeli investigators were visibly frustrated.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said his government wanted more control of the probe. Sharon sent investigators from the Mossad intelligence agency to Kenya after the bombing to help.
"We are cooperating with the Kenyan government," Gissin said. "I think up to now they were very, very much cooperative, but one must understand that they were not geared to this kind of a threat or they don't have the necessary resources or technological capabilities that would enable them to deal with that."
Julius Sunkuli, Kenya's internal security and defense minister, defended his country's handling of the investigation despite its lack of resources.
Kenyan police said they have interviewed dozens of witnesses and people who were in the hotel at the time of the bombing, and have visited Deche at his home twice.
Deche said that around 8 a.m. his 13-year-old daughter, Sophia, told him that a car was sitting on his property. He jumped out of bed to investigate. "I was imagining that they wanted to buy a goat," said Deche, who is also a farmer.
The man in the passenger's seat spoke Swahili, an official language in Kenya, with an Arabic accent. There were black markings on the heads of both men, Deche said, which devout Muslims often have from bowing during prayer.
Shortly after walking back to his home, Deche heard the explosion.
Two of Deche's daughters regularly sold firewood to the Paradise Hotel, and his only source of income is the fish he catches and sells to tourists.