Kenya: Desperate hunt to find truck bombs on the loose
Kenyan and FBI teams are racing against the clock to locate and disable two or more truck bombs — known as Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) — believed to be in Mombasa, the Daily Nation has learnt.
The news comes barely a day after a Toyota 4X4 laden with six bombs was safely defused by a joint team of experts using an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) robot in Changamwe and two remote-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs) were recovered from another Toyota 4X4 on March 18.
In total, security teams have found and disabled eight IEDs containing C4, a military grade explosive material that was most probably “foraged” from old mortar and artillery shells and designed to carry out a complex attack against buildings, a security source told the Daily Nation.
“They packed enough power to bring down a multi-storey building and cause massive civilian casualties,” the source added.
It is suspected that the target was the Moi International Airport, Mombasa. As a result, a security cordon has been thrown around the airport with tougher vehicle searches and a ban on motorbikes.
A source also said equipment to screen vehicles would be installed at the airport in the next few days to boost surveillance.
Experts say that had the attack succeeded, it would have been on the same scale as the attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and on the Israeli-owned Paradise hotel in Kikambala in Coast in 2002.
Security has been tightened at crucial installations like ferries, the port, airport and shopping malls even as the security team held a five-hour meeting with Kenya Ferry Services, the airport and a local supermarket management.
Meanwhile, the suspected leader of the terrorist cell is said to be in custody and undergoing interrogation. His nationality remained unclear, but there was speculation he could be Somali.
The FBI and the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit have stepped up their activities and an intense operation is under way to locate other potential truck bombs.
A number of garages suspected to have been used in the plot have been searched and cordoned off in several locations in the city. They are believed to have helped the plotters acquire vehicle parts and fake plates and facilitated the operation to assemble the bombs and modify the vehicles.
In Mombasa, county police commander Robert Kitur said a security team is tracking down at least six suspected Al Qaeda operatives. Another four are already in custody.
Intelligence reports had said 10 of them were involved in attempts to attack installations in Coast.
The four under interrogation are believed to be of Somali origin, police said. Mr Kitur appealed to the public to provide information about suspicious persons.
“Apart from the two suspects we arrested on Tuesday, we have also arrested two more and our men are on the ground still pursuing six others. We have got some intelligence that they were about 10 so we do not know where they are.
“We are appealing to the public to call us so that we can verify the identity of the people if they see any suspicious characters,” he said.
Mombasa security committee chairman Nelson Marwa said they have held a crucial stakeholder meeting on security over all establishments and facilities such as ferries, supermarkets, the port among others in the county.
Mr Marwa, the county commissioner, insisted they had heightened security in all the shopping malls.
Kenya Ferry Services, supermarkets, Moi International Airport were also secured, he said, and urged the residents to share information.
He also appealed for calm, saying, citizens’ safety was top on the government’s agenda.
“The court has granted us permission to destroy the explosives, but the fate of the vehicle that carried them is not very clear because it is still under scrutiny. You know it is important we go through the legal procedures to destroy the explosives so as to avoid unnecessary litigation,” he said.
He said a safe area had been identified for the detonation of the devices and thanked security agents for sharing information.
“I thank everyone for sharing information and we should keep on doing this. Kenya belongs to us and we must do all it takes to protect the peace that prevails here” he said.