Kenyan police found bomb-making materials in the home of a man they believe owned the vehicle that was used in last month's suicide bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel near Mombasa, the deputy head of the national police force said today.
Deputy Police Commissioner William Langat said authorities were searching for the man, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 23. On Saturday, police brought in his wife, Fatuma Nabhan, a 17-year-old Kenyan, for questioning from Lamu, an island north of Mombasa, and police said she told them that her husband said he was going to Somalia, which borders Kenya to the east.
"If we could find him alive, it would answer a lot of questions for us," said Langat, who is leading the investigation along with Israeli agents.
Langat said the couple had lived in Mombasa for three years with their child and another young couple suspected in the attacks. They all left on Nov. 27, one day before the bombing, Langat said.
Police said they searched their house and found items that could be used to make a car bomb. The apartment looked torn apart, with clothes scattered everywhere, Langat said. Fatuma Nabhan was seen in Lamu Nov. 26, two days before the attacks. Police found her at her mother's house there and brought her to Mombasa for questioning.
The Nov. 28 attack at the Indian Ocean resort killed 16 people, including three people who police said they believe were suicide bombers. Minutes earlier, two shoulder-launched missiles were fired at an Israeli jetliner shortly after it took off for Tel Aviv from Moi International Airport in Mombasa. The missiles missed their target.
Langat said the investigation was turning up new information about terrorist cells in East Africa. Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has asserted responsibility for the hotel attack. If the claim is proved, it would be al Qaeda's first significant strike on an Israeli target.
So far, the investigation has produced few substantial leads. Of 16 people picked up for questioning, only two are still being held. Along with Fatuma Nabhan, the man who sold the car to Saleh Nabhan is being questioned. His name is Jelani Abu Sheikh, and he has said he sold the vehicle to Nabhan and another man two weeks before the attacks.
The hotel bombing is the second time that Kenya has been the scene of a terrorist strike. In August 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the capital, along with the one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were bombed in attacks that killed 224 people, most of them Africans.
Police have distributed computer-generated sketches of two men suspected of launching the missiles at the Israeli plane. They are also circulating a photograph of Saleh Nabhan.