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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israelis Targeted In Kenya Attacks

APAn aerial view of the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala near Mombasa, Kenya, on Thursday after it was devastated by a car bomb.
MOMBASA, Kenya -- Suicide bombers blew up a hotel full of Israelis in Kenya on Thursday, killing 14 people, minutes after missiles narrowly missed an Israeli airliner taking off nearby, in an apparently synchronized attack.

Israeli and Kenyan officials swiftly blamed the al-Qaida network. In a fax sent to Reuters by a Lebanese media organization, the previously unheard-of Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack. Police said they were questioning two people seized near the scene of the hotel bomb.

Witnesses spoke of Israeli tourists and other survivors, streaked with blood and dust, staggering to the beach from the shattered Mombasa Paradise resort hotel and screaming for water after the attackers rammed a car bomb into the hotel lobby.

There were discrepancies in the casualty figures. "There should be initial indications that 14 people have died," Kenya's Interior Minister Julius Sunkuli said.

Police earlier said three suicide attackers had killed themselves, six Kenyans and two Israelis. Israeli officials said three Israelis were killed, two of them children. Eighty people were wounded, Kenya's ambassador to Israel said.

Wreckage of the bombers' car was left 15 meters from the smoldering rubble of the entrance to the hotel, reported to be Israeli-owned and where most guests were Israeli.

A human jaw lay on the ground near the mangled metal.

"Around 7:30, we heard a massive explosion. The entire building shook," witness Kelly Hartog wrote on the web site of the Jerusalem Post.

"I saw people covered with blood, including children. Everyone seemed to be screaming. From the dining room we were herded out to the beach. There were no medics. People were screaming for water.

"I tried to occupy myself tending to the children. 'I want to go home,' they said. 'Where are my parents?'"

Minutes before the hotel blast, missiles were fired at an Israeli Arkia airliner carrying 261 passengers as it took off from Mombasa's airport.

"About 2 kilometers from the airport, two missiles were fired at the aircraft from a white Pajero by some people who are suspected to be of Arab origin. Both missiles missed the aircraft," police spokesman Kimgori Mwangi said.

Ezra Gozlan, a passenger sitting at the back of the plane, said he saw a missile fly over the wing moments after takeoff.

"All the wheels were in the air and then we heard the explosion. It [the missile] went about 1 meter above the wing," he said. The plane landed safely in Israel, escorted by Israeli air force jets.

"We spotted two white smoke trails passing us on the left side, from the rear to the front, and disappearing after a few seconds," pilot Rafi Marik said.

Eitan Hess-Ashkenazi / AP

Avishai Gamzo, an Israeli Arkia passenger, cries as he sees his family at Ben Gurion.

A Kenyan security source said it was believed the attackers used shoulder-born missile launchers.

The hotel attackers were also described as of Arab appearance and also driving a four-wheel-drive Pajero they had turned into a suicide bomb.

"Just after a group of tourists were brought to the hotel, I saw a white Pajero forcing its way into the gate," said a barman at a hotel across the road from the Mombasa Paradise.

"It had three people of Arab origin and after it got to the reception area I heard an explosion."

Investigators said they did not rule out a link between the crash of a light plane that took off from Mombasa on Thursday, injuring at least seven, and the two attacks on Israelis.

Israeli and Kenyan officials were quick to accuse the al-Qaida network, blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 attacks last year and for the 1998 truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 people dead.

If that judgment is correct, these would be the first direct attacks on Israelis by Osama bin Laden's group.

Nabil Abdel-Fattah, assistant director of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the timing seemed to be aimed at coinciding with the Likud party leadership vote in Israel on Thursday.

"It is to show the [Ariel] Sharon option, the Likud option, is not a solution to the Palestine problem," he said.

A statement faxed to Reuters in Beirut said however the attacks were carried out by the Army of Palestine to mark the anniversary of the 1947 UN resolution partitioning Palestine between Arabs and Jews. There was no confirmation of the claim.

Bin Laden and his followers, forced into hiding by the U.S. campaign against their bases in Afghanistan, were also suspected of involvement on the Oct. 12 Bali bomb, which killed 185.

U.S. officials said in June that Sudanese authorities had arrested a suspected al-Qaida militant who claimed to have fired a shoulder-launched missile at a U.S. aircraft in Saudi Arabia.

The discovery of an empty but scorched launcher at the Saudi air base prompted the FBI to issue an intelligence alert that terrorists might try to shoot down an American commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles.

Kenya's coastal region has a large Muslim population with traditional links to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

"We had similar attacks in 1998, the world including our friends have not helped us enough," Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi said Thursday. "We will do what we can to fight back."

In northern Israel, suspected Palestinian gunmen killed at least four Israelis and wounded several more on Thursday.