DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (eTN) – East African states were on full alert this week after one terror suspect who masterminded the bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed reported to have escaped a police dragnet in Kenya last weekend.
Identified as one of the suspects and an ardent al-Qaeda associate, Fazul is a key suspect who organized the simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi on August 7, 1998, which killed 225 people.
During the blast that rocked the US embassy offices accommodated in an Israeli-built block that belonged to the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) in Dar es Salaam, 11 people were killed and 85 others seriously injured.
The Nairobi blast killed 206 people and left more than 5,000 injured. In last weekend’s incident, the Kenyan police mounted a massive manhunt for the suspects, sealing all routes from the costal and tourist town of Malindi, north of Mombasa port, to block the suspect and other terror accomplices from slipping out of Kenya.
In Tanzanian capital city of Dar es Salaam, police and other security agents were on full alert early this week after learning of Fazul’s escape from Kenyan police trap.
“We are collaborating with Kenyan security organs in response to reports from Kenya. Our anti-terror organs and other security agents are on alert and prepared to take appropriate measures,” said Tanzanian senior police commander Paul Chagonja.
Tanzanian police feared that Fazul might have crossed the porous Kenyan borders into Tanzania. The escape of the terror suspect was reported just few days after the US State Department issued an alert to all US citizens warning them from traveling to East Africa because of the 10th anniversary of the Dar es Salaam and Nairobi bombings.
Early this week, three family members said to be accomplices of Fazul were charged before a Kenyan court in Mombasa on grounds of assisting the terrorist to avoid arrest in relation to another bomb attack at a tourist resort in Malindi in November 28, 2002 which killed at least 12 people in a hotel.
Mahfudh Ashur Hemed, his wife Luftiya Abubakar Bashrahil and their son Ibrahim Mahfudh Ashur were taken to the court for being icons in harboring and assisting Fazul after the attack on Paradise Beach Resort in Kikambala.
Fazul Abdullah escaped a police dragnet last weekend, only three hours after two of his accomplices were arrested and interrogated by the Anti-Terrorism Police in Malindi.
During last weekend’s crackdown, the Kenyan police squad of 25 officers raided a house in the Indian Ocean beach town of Malindi where Fazul was believed to have been hiding.
They were acting on information they received after interrogating other suspects identified as Ibrahim Mahfoudh and his father, Mahfoudh Ashour.
The officers narrowly missed Fazul, but found two passports and a laptop computer the police believed were abandoned as the terror suspect escaped the police dragnet.
The foreign passports bore photographs of Fazul while the computer had not been switched off.
Police said Fazul may have crossed the Somali border to Kenya to escape US intelligence officers who have been concentrating their search in Mogadishu, the Somalia capital.
Since the attacks in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, authorities believe that Fazul was hiding in Somalia but there have been indications that he could have sneaked back to Kenya.
Security agents believe that there were more aerial terror attacks in East Africa planned to rock various locations. .
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed has a US$5 million bounty on his head for allegedly planning the 1998 terror attacks. He was apparently in Kenya to seek treatment for a kidney complaint, a Kenyan police officer said.
Kenyan police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the anti-terrorist unit had been conducting operations along the Kenyan coastal zone.
The 32-year-old suspected member of al-Qaeda is originally from the Comoros Islands, in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa.
Fazul joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden before becoming a teacher at a religious school in northern Kenya in the mid-1990s. He was captured by Kenyan police in 2002 for credit card fraud, but escaped after a day and fled to war-ravaged Somalia where authorities believe he has been hiding ever since.