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Person acquitted of murder jailed for possessing arms

Written by: Staff

NAIROBI, Apr 4: A Kenyan acquitted of murder in the al Qaeda-linked suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in 2002 was today jailed for illegal possession of arms police suspect were to be used in an attack on aircraft.

Omar Said Omar was among four locals acquitted last year of responsibility for the deaths of three Israelis and 12 Kenyans killed after two suicide bombers drove into a hotel near the coastal town of Mombasa.

But he was re-arrested and charged with possessing rocket-launchers and assault rifles that police said were intended to be used in a possible strike on an airline.

The Nairobi court sentenced him to eight years' prison.

''I find that the prosecution ... has proved its case against the accused for having illegal firearms,'' senior principal magistrate Rosemelle Mutoka said.

After the failure of last year's murder charges, prosecutors were jubilant with today's conviction of Omar.

''This case is a major boost to the fight against terrorism in the country,'' state prosecutor Edwin Okello told reporters.

On the same day -- and almost at the same time -- as the November 28, 2002, hotel bomb, a missile was fired but missed an Israeli airliner leaving Mombasa airport. Prosecutors did not, however, directly link Omar to that air attack.

So far, no one has been convicted in either case, leading the Israeli government to express its disappointment with Kenya.


The 2002 attacks were the most high-profile terror incidents in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network claimed responsibility for the missile attack and bombing at the hotel, a popular destination for Israeli package tourists in Kikambala, north of Mombasa. Al Qaeda was also blamed for the U.S. mission blast and an almost simultaneous blast at the U.S. embassy in Tanzania.

Western security services regard Kenya, especially its long Indian Ocean coastline, as a potential weak flank in the US-led ''war on terror.'' But Kenyan rights and Muslim groups said last year's murder trial over the hotel bombing came after a hurried and incompetent investigation by local police under strong pressure from Western governments looking for results.

They alleged discriminatory round-ups of Kenyan Muslims in the coastal region.

Omar planned to contest the conviction.

''We are dissatisfied with the ruling and definitely we are going to appeal,'' defence lawyer Winston Ngaira told reporters.


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