THE arraignment in a Nairobi court of two Iranians accused of having explosives has opened a new front in the diplomatic row between Israel and Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of plotting terror attacks against its (Israel's) interests in Kenya. Netanyahu further accused Tehran of being a sponsor of international terrorism. "Iranian terrorism knows no borders," Netanyahu is quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
"After Iran sent its agents to murder the Saudi ambassador on US soil, the country has engaged in attacks in Azerbaijan, Bangkok, in Tbilisi, in New Delhi, and now we have just discovered a plot for a terrorist attack in Africa," Netanyahu said. "The international community must fight against this major player in the world of terrorism," he added.
According to the court charges against Ahmed Mohamud and Said Mausud, the two Iranians were arrested after they were found with 15 kilogrammes of RDX explosives in circumstances which indicated that they were armed with intent to commit a felony. They were arrested in Nairobi and led investigators to the Mombasa Golf Course on Mama Ngina Drive where the explosives were found. They both denied the charges before Principal Magistrate PC Biwott, just a day after the June 25 grenade attack on a bar in Mishomoroni area of Mombasa that killed three people.
The Iran government has denied any knowledge of the duo and said their identities were not known. "The identities of these persons are not yet known to us and the Iranian embassy in Nairobi is seeking to obtain information and a consular visit," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, quoted by state news agency IRNA. "As long as the identities of these persons are not obtained, we cannot make any comment about this matter," he said.
Yesterday, London's Daily Mail reported that the two Iranians had planned to attack Israeli, US, British or Saudi targets inside Kenya. It said the foiled attack appeared to fit into a global pattern of plots by Iranian agents. Previous plots were uncovered in the US - against Saudi Arabia's ambassador - as well as in Thailand, Azerbaijan and India.
The newspaper reported the two are believed to be members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite and secretive unit that acts against foreign interests. Quoting officials within, the Mail said the advanced explosives the two Iranians had and their links to the Quds Force indicate that the mission in Kenya was cleared by the highest levels inside Iran's government.
However, the story says it's not clear how much central direction Quds operatives receive from top Iranian leaders. Five Iranian scientists with links to the country's nuclear programme have been killed in the last two years. Iran has pointed an accusing finger at Israel, US and British intelligence agencies for the attacks. In return, Israel blames Iran for alleged reprisal missions on Israeli property and personnel overseas.
Iran has denied any links to attacks outside its borders. "The reason basically is that to some extent, there is an al-Quds operation against Israel, which is a reprisal to Israeli attacks on Iranian physicists and scientists," Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Mail in London. "It is much more likely if they were to do anything in Africa that they would try to find Israeli targets rather than US, British or Saudi targets," said Cordesman.
Several resorts on Kenya's Coast are Israeli-owned, as is Nairobi's largest and newest shopping mall, the Westgate in Westlands. Militants in 2002 bombed the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel outside Mombasa killing 13 people. The attackers also tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time. An al Qaeda operative was linked to those attacks.
The newspaper said it is unlikely the Iranians were working in concert with al Shabaab because the two groups come from two different branches of Islam and don't normally cooperate. Internal Security acting minister Yusuf Haji refused to comment when was asked at a news conference on Friday about the case against the two Iranians. Haji said the the issue was not only "sensitive" but he could not comment on a matter pending before the court. He said more information would come out when the prosecution presents its evidence.