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Kenyan police have arrested a man they believed to be a key al-Qaida suspect who tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner and helped plan the simultaneous bombing of a hotel in 2002 that killed 15 people, officials said.
The man's identity was not immediately confirmed, but investigators said they believe he is Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior official in Kenya's security services told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the matter was classified.
Nabhan is wanted for questioning by the FBI and the Kenyan police for the 2002 attacks and the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people. Nabhan fled to Somalia after the attacks near Mombasa. Last year US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer accused Islamic radicals in Somalia of sheltering him and demanded they hand him over.
The man believed to be Nabhan was arrested last week in Mombasa after a foreign exchange dealer hit a panic button because of the man's nervous behavior, the security official said. Police thought the man resembled Nabhan's photo and arrested him, the official added.
US officials have interrogated the suspect, another law enforcement official said, who also asked not to be named because the matter was classified. The US Embassy in Kenya declined to comment.
The arrest took place just days before the US Embassy in Kenya issued a warning on Tuesday that a possible "terrorist attack" was being planned in Mombasa to coincide with the World Cross Country Championships on March 24. The Kenyan government reacted angrily to the warning. The Kenyan government has a history of playing down any possible terrorist threats to protect its tourism industry.
Al-Amin Kimathi, the executive coordinator of the group Muslim Human Rights in Kenya, said his group was aware of the arrest and investigating. He said the police register listed the suspect's name as Mohamed Abdulmalik Abduljabar.
"We tried to get access to him, but we could only manage a very brief chat," he said. "He told us that he was in Somalia. He didn't tell us any details... he was terrified."
The suspect, who is the same age as Nabhan, believed he was going to be flown out of Kenya, Kimathi said. The suspect has a Middle Eastern appearance, he added, like Nabhan.
Terrorists believed to be from an East Africa al-Qaida cell killed 15 people when they drove a car bomb into a hotel near Mombasa on November 28, 2002. Almost simultaneously, members of the group fired a surface-to-air missile at an Israeli airliner taking off from the Mombasa airport. The missile missed.
Four men were charged in the attack, including Nabhan's brother, Mohammed Ali Saleh Nabhan, but all were acquitted. US and Kenyan authorities have been searching for Nabhan and at least two other suspects, accused cell leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Comorian, and a Sudanese, Abu Taha al-Sudani.
Mohamed Saleh Nabhan told the Associated Press on Friday that he had no information about his brother and did not know if he was dead or alive.