Fazul’s AQ Attacks on the Kenya Coast – 2002

Nelly Lahoud’s article, The Merger of al-Shabaab and Qa’idat al Jihad, discusses many curiosities about al-Qaeda’s presence in Somalia and their relationship with al-Shabaab. The question I’ve always had was why didn’t al-Qaeda establish a formal operation in Somalia with either AIAI, the ICU or al Shabaab at any time over the past 20 years?  AQ always had some operatives in the region; could have established a formal relationship at any time. But, AQ didn’t do it despite having contact and cooperation with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the former head of AIAI and current member of al-Shabaab, going back to at least 1993.

An issue I’ve always been curious about was Fazul and AQ’s attacks on the Kenyan coast in 2002.  In 2007, I traveled to Kenya for some research and compared the terrorist attacks orchestrated by Fazul in 2002 with AQ’s early operations in Kenya in the 1992-1994. Fazul floated through Kenya for years living just off Lamu (Siyu Island) before the 2002 attacks and what he pulled on in 2002 was quite elaborate compared to many other AQ attacks (Assuming this was AQ behind this attack).

On 28 November 2002, Fazul and a group of operatives executed two attacks on Israeli targets.  Both of these were lightly covered in the press despite them involving a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) on a hotel and the launch of a surface-to-air (SAM) missile at Mombasa airport. (Analysts rarely discuss this SAM missile case study when pondering whether AQ will conduct a SAM attack using missiles from Libya, it already happened – 10 years ago!)

Here’s a new recap of these attacks I just stumbled on from Jonathan Fighel:

On the morning of November 28, 2002, Al-Qaeda launched coordinated attacks in Mombassa, Kenya against the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel and an Israeli passenger jet. The near simultaneous attacks involved Al-Qaeda operatives supported by a local infrastructure. In the first attack, the terrorists fired two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles at a departing Israeli Arkia charter Boeing 757 passenger aircraft, carrying 261 passengers and crew, both missiles missed. The second occurred twenty minutes later, when an explosives laden vehicle driven by two suicide attackers, blew up in front of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel. The attack was timed just as the hotel’s Israeli guests arrived—having traveled aboard the same Arkia plane that had embarked on the return flight to Israel. As a result of the Paradise Hotel attack, 15 people were killed (12 Kenyan nationals and three Israeli tourists) and approximately 80 other people were injured.

The Paradise Hotel and the Arkia jet were both specifically Israeli targets.

  • Why did AQ and Fazul choose this time to directly attack an Israeli target?  AQ is always noted as being brilliantly strategic by analysts, but this attack killed and injured mostly Kenyans.  It also didn’t seem to draw great international attention.
  • Were there specifically people on this plane that Fazul and AQ wanted to target?
  • And why hasn’t the counterterrorism analysis community spent much energy trying to figure out where the SAM missiles came from when we have all seemed very concerned about where Libyan missiles have gone?

I hope Nelly Lahoud’s upcoming biographical analysis of Fazul will shed some light on these questions.  In the meantime, if you are considering a stay at the Paradise Hotel and wonder if they’ve made security improvements, feel confident that any future attack will be deterred by the two impenetrable potted plants now protecting the hotel entrance from a potential VBIED. See picture below:

I’m guessing the ripple in the roof running directly above the second potted plant is left over from the 2002 VBIED blast.

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