Commando troops in Somalia yesterday killed a Kenyan believed to be involved in a 2002 hotel bombing in Mombasa that claimed the lives of 15 people, including three Israelis, according to multiple accounts from Somalia.
Relatives of the victims of the attack on Paradise Hotel told Haaretz that the death of Kenya-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, was "a closing of a circle," but "does not make life any easier."
Nabhan is believed to have owned the truck used in the bombing.
Nabhan, who was also wanted over a botched missile attack on an Israeli airliner taking off from Kenya's Mombasa airport, was killed after a missile struck his car in Somalia's Barawe District, 250 kilometers south of the capital Mogadishu. Witnesses said the missile was launched from a helicopter.
ABC News reported the attackers were U.S. troops, and that Nabhan is believed to have taken part in the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. An American official said a U.S. Navy ship was nearby to monitor the situation and provide assistance if needed, the station reported.
Nabhan's death has not yet been officially confirmed, but sources told ABC News that his body is now in U.S. custody. One of the helicopters landed so that "white" troops could take the two injured men away, reported one eyewitness.
An internal U.S. government report describes Ali Nabhan's work in Somalia as a top Al-Qaida official in East Africa, ABC News reported. He was rumored to have fled Kenya for Somalia as early as 2002.
No government has assumed responsibility for the attack. According to some accounts, some commandos who carried out the raid had French flags on their uniforms.
But a spokesman for the French Defense Ministry, Christophe Prazuck, denied any French soldiers were involved. Al Qaida-inspired extremists known as the Shebab control the area, and are believed to be holding a French agent kidnapped in July.
Prazuck said the French forces present in the region were there as part of the European Union anti-piracy force Atalante, and that "they did not intervene over Somali territory."
"There is a lot of conflicting information coming from the area," a Western diplomat familiar with Somalia said, according to the British Telegraph. "But it does seem that at least two, maybe as many as six choppers, were involved in an incident earlier today."
A senior Somali government source in Mogadishu said Nabhan and another top militant commander were killed in the raid. ABC also reported that "it is believed" that Ali Nabhan was the target of an earlier U.S. military strike in March 2008, involving two Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by the U.S. Navy.
"It shows murderers cannot live unpunished for long and that sooner or later someone will catch up with them, be it the Americans or us," said Rami Anter of Ariel, the father of Dvir and Noy, who were killed when they were 15 and 12, respectively, in the bombing of the Israeli-owned hotel. Ora, Rami Anter's wife, was severly wounded and his youngest daughter, Adva, now 15, was also injured.
"The thought that the man who killed my boys is walking around free was unbearable," he said yesterday. "It feels like a circle has been closed, but of course it hasn't because it does not bring back my children," he said. "It took seven years, which is a long time. But they were caught in the end and that's what matters." The third Israeli victim was tour guide Albert de Villa of Ra'anana, who was 60.
The Anters and De Villa were killed along with eight Kenyan dancers when a man blew himself up inside the Israeli-owned hotel, and two other accomplices blew up a jeep outside the hotel. The attack injured 60 to 80 people, including 20 Israelis.
At approximately the same time as the bombings, terrorists fired two Strela 2 surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter plane owned by Arkia Airlines. The missiles missed the aircraft, which was later rumored to have deployed a defense system meant to confuse the missiles' seeker systems.
While a Lebanese group calling itself the Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. and Israeli experts believe Al-Qaida was involved. The Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Ittihad al-Islami, which has ties to Al-Qaida, was named as a possible perpetrator.