Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com)- A terrorist attack targeting Israel nationals in the East Africa's seaside city of Mombasa, Kenya, killed at least twelve people on Thursday.
The attack happened at 8.00 a.m. local time, at the Israel-owned Mombasa Paradise Hotel. At the same time, terrorists fired two missiles at an Israeli charter airliner as it flew out of the Mombasa Airport. The missiles missed their target, and the plane - carrying 264 passengers - later arrived safely in Israel.
Eyewitness said three suicide bombers, driving a Mitsubishi Pajero, asked a local resident for directions to the Mombasa Paradise hotel.
They were turned away at the hotel gate, but they returned - smashing through barriers into the hotel lobby, where the explosion happened.
Some witnesses said a light aircraft flew over the hotel minutes after the explosion, dropping small bombs that flattened the 146-roomed hotel, which was fully booked at the time of the attack. That report has not been confirmed, however.
Kenya Police spokesperson Kingori Mwangii initially told CNSNews.com that the dead included three suicide bombers, six Kenyan and two Israelis. That number rose to eight Kenyans and three Israelis as the day went on. Most of the Kenyans who died were traditional dancers who had been on hand to welcome the new arrivals.
Mwangii declined to comment on whether the police had made any arrests, although state intelligence sources said at least four people were arrested immediately after the attacks.
He said nobody had claimed responsibility for the attack, but the BBC quoted Kenya's ambassador to Israel as saying there is "no doubt" that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network is behind the two attacks. [Later a group calling itsef the Arab Army of Palestine claimed responsibility.]
Kenya is no stranger to terrorism. An Aug. 7, 1998, blast at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi killed 219 people - 12 of them Americans -- and wounded 5,000. A nearly simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Tanzania killed 12 people and injured more than 80. The terrorists convicted of carrying out the attacks are linked to the al Qaeda terror network.
In his most recent recorded message, broadcast on 12 November, bin Laden called on governments in the West to distance themselves from the US and Israel.
If they did not, he said, they would face bombings and killings similar to the recent attack on a nightclub in a tourist resort in Bali, Indonesia, that killed about 200 people.
Pilot, passengers calm
The captain of the targeted Israeli charter jet told Fox News he "felt a bump" as the plane's landing gear was going up. He said he saw "two white stripes coming up from behind the airplane on its left side," but since nothing seemed wrong, the pilot decided to continue on to Tel Aviv.
He said he told the passengers "that everything was fine and there was nothing else to do" but continue on to Tel Aviv. Passengers getting off the flight in Tel Aviv said there was no panic. Most said they were unaware that anything had happened until the pilots told them later that the aircraft had come under attack. Others said there had been a slight shaking of the aircraft, or that they had seen something outside the plane.
The plane belongs to the Arkia charter company, which has a regular weekly service flying tourists between Tel Aviv and Mombasa.
'Running for cover'
Juma Mwagomba, who was walking on a beach near the hotel, told CNSNews.com he saw a four-wheel drive vehicle force its way through the gates of the hotel and ram into the hotel reception area. It happened a few minutes after a group of about 60 Israeli tourists entered the hotel to check in.
Another eyewitness, Jimmy Mwamburi, said he heard a loud explosion, then saw fire and smoke billowing from the hotel. "There was a lot of confusion around the hotel," Mwamburi said. "I thought it was just a hotel fire, but then I saw everyone running for cover."
'World needs to wake up'
Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, told Fox News that Israel is "facing a horrendous wave of attacks," and he said the threat is not just against Israel - it's against every civilized society in the world.
"The reason that we have this kind of world today?is because of a wave of anti-Semitism and incitement that has engulfed the whole Arab world."
He said the real threat facing the free world comes from a network of terrorist organizations and the states that support them. He identified those states as Iraq, Iran, and Syria. "It's about time that the world stand up together against this threat."