A group of terrorists operating from Somalia had planned three bomb attacks in Nairobi during the visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month, the Sunday Nation can reveal.
A senior counter-terrorism official has recounted how the terrorists planned to stage simultaneous attacks at the Hotel InterContinental, the Kencom Bus Stage and the adjacent Hilton Hotel. Mrs Clinton stayed at the Hotel InterContinental during her visit.
The plan was hatched in Somalia and thwarted by Kenyan security officials who intercepted communication between the plotters and their accomplices in Nairobi.
The security official – whose identity cannot be revealed without compromising antiterrorism operations – said that the terrorists linked to the Al Shabaab group had wanted to embarrass Kenyan and US governments but their plans were thwarted before the attackers could cross the border.
“The threats were neutralised a week to the Agoa meeting in combined efforts by the military and other security agencies,” the official said. “The operation in Nairobi netted five crucial suspects, one of whom carries Danish identification documents but is believed to be a Somali national. The other four, one of whom is a woman, hold Kenyan identification documents believed to be fake. Investigations into their identity and plan are on.”
The official added: “While in the past the real target of the attacks has been Western interests, the Al Qaeda leadership has since made Kenya a new target. So serious is the threat that during the Agoa meeting, the Al Qaeda intended to strike at the heart of Nairobi during the rush hours.”
According to the security official, the masterminds of the attack were in contact with Mr Saleh Nabhan, one of the most wanted men by the FBI, and whose personal assistant, a man identified as Anas, is believed to have been coordinating the plan.
Mrs Clinton was in Nairobi in August to officiate at trade talks between her government and African countries courtesy of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an American law that seeks to promote trade between the US and Africa. While in Nairobi, Mrs Clinton and her entourage were booked at Hotel InterContinetal. She arrived in the country on August 4 and left on August 7.
To reassure themselves, Kenyan security officials detailed officers from the elite presidential guard to her entourage. The streets around the hotel and those adjacent to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, the venue of the meeting, had been closed to normal traffic as part of the security measures.
The information about the threat and what Kenyan security officials did to stop the deadly plans was shared with US security officials and has also been captured in a security dossier prepared for circulation in top security echelons.
The presence of Al Shabaab operatives in the country, the Sunday Nation learnt, is facilitated by helpers living mainly in Mombasa and Nairobi’s Eastleigh, South B, South C and Komarock estates.
Last month, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Defence minister Yusuf Haji and Internal Security minister George Saitoti launched a public education programme in which political and religious leaders teamed up to discourage young men from North Eastern Province from recruiting into Al Shabaab.
Kenya has been in terrorism news since August 7, 1998 when bombers struck in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killing close to 250 people and injuring close to 5,000. Later on November 29, 2002, terrorists struck in Mombasa, this time delivering a truckload of explosives to the Kikambala Paradise Hotel where they left 15 people dead. An attempt to bring down an Israeli jetliner which was taking off from the Moi International Airport failed.
Counter-terrorism officials are now investigating how Somali nationals are bribing their way into government offices and acquiring Kenyan identification documents.
“This has made Kenyan travel documents to be subjected to serious scrutiny by foreign governments,” says a government security brief seen by the Sunday Nation. “More recently, the Al Shabaab/Al Qaeda operatives have sought to penetrate the Kenyan justice system by going to court to bar deportation of their associates.”
The dossier talks of judges and court clerks who have previously been bribed by operatives but does not name them. During her visit, one of Mrs Clinton’s concerns that she raised with Kenyan leaders was about Somalia and the threat of extremism posed by al Shabaab. While in Kenya, Mrs Clinton met with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.