/ 29 September 2007

US warns of kidnap threat to tourists in Kenya

The United States on Friday warned that Somali Islamist militants might kidnap Western tourists on vulnerable Kenyan beaches.

In a message to US nationals in Kenya, the US embassy in Nairobi said it had received information that Islamic extremists from southern Somalia may be planning kidnapping operations across the border.

”There are indications that Islamic extremists based in Somalia may be planning to target Westerners, especially American citizens, in the Kiwayu Island tourist area and other beach sites frequented by Western travellers on the north-east coast near Somalia,” said an embassy statement.

”All US citizens in these areas should exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant at all times,” added the notice.

A Kenyan police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that his service had informed US intelligence of the kidnap threat.

Kiwayu, which is near Lamu township, attracts a lot of Western holidaymakers.

Kenya closed its 700km long border with Somalia in January and intensified patrols to prevent Somalia’s 16-year-conflict spilling over the frontier.

The United States this month gave the Kenyan army 41 Humvee military vehicles, in particular to patrol the country’s treacherous frontier terrain with Somalia.

Although Kenya has created special anti-terrorism and tourism police units, security officials still warn that the tourist beaches are vulnerable to attack.

Kenyan National Security Minister John Michuki this month introduced a Organised Crime Bill 2007, which would increase powers to crackdown on terrorism, but it faced fierce opposition from Muslim lawmakers.

A version of the Bill, which has yet to yet to be debated, was first proposed in 2003, but rejected after human rights groups and Muslim activists said it violated fundamental rights.

Kenyan Muslims say the Bill ”specifically targets members of the their faith — Muslims”, according to a bulletin issued by Nairobi’s Jamia mosque on Friday.

Washington gave Ethiopian forces tacit support in the war that ended Islamist control of much of Somalia this year. Some of the Islamists, who are currently hiding in Mogadishu and others in the Eritrean capital, are accused of links to al-Qaeda.

The United States has said three suspects believed to be hiding in Somalia are linked to the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as well as the 2002 attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

Before the Ethiopian onslaught, the Islamists rose to power after defeating a US-backed warlord alliance, rapidly expanding their territory and imposing strict Sharia law, sparking fears of a Taliban-style takeover of the lawless country.

Since the Islamists were ousted early this year, they have carried out near-daily hit-and-run attacks, targeting Somali government officials, Ethiopian troops and African Union troops.

A recent government-sponsored reconciliation conference was boycotted by Islamist-led Somali opposition groups, and ended with no breakthrough, while attacks continued.

Last week, groups opposed to the Somali government vowed to intensify fighting with the aim of driving out Ethiopian forces.

The United States has warned Eritrea against supporting the Somali Islamists, indicating that it could be put on a US list of nations that support terrorism. – Sapa-AFP