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Middle East: United States Says Terrorists Will Be Pursued

By Breffni O'Rourke/Abbas Djavadi

Prague, 10 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In a last, sad journey, the bodies of 12 Americans killed in the terror bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi were to be flown home today. In the Kenyan capital, funerals were to take place for scores of local people, most of them innocent bystanders, who were killed when Friday's powerful blast ripped though the city's business district.

The overall death toll is now reckoned to be about 200, but the exact figure may never be known. Thousands more office workers were injured by shattering glass in surrounding buildings.

Another bomb went off practically at the same moment in Dar es Salaam, the capital of neighboring Tanzania. The death toll there was much smaller, and no Americans were killed.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says the attacks on the embassies were clearly coordinated, and that they represent an act of unadulterated evil. Berger says the U.S. intends to track down those responsible and bring them to account. Islamic extremists have claimed responsibility, although their claim has not been independently verified.

The United States and the Kenyan authorities have received condolences from around the world, not least from Islamic countries appalled at this major act of terrorism. A typical reaction comes from Kuwait, whose Ambassador to Prague Kazim Maarasie said:

"Completely we condemn it, and we are not accepting these things; How can we accept a situation where they are killing humans for nothing."

Turkey too was among the many countries expressing revulsion and stating its opposition to terrorism. A spokeswoman said:

"It (Turkey) has always been pursuing that path -- whether such terrorism results from ethnic, religious or other matters. We strongly condemn such attacks."

The group claiming to have done the work is previously unknown and calls itself the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places. The group has indicted that the Nairobi bombing was done by two Saudi Arabians, and the Dar es Salaam blast by an Egyptian. It claims to draw inspiration from various Islamic scholarly sources, as well as from an exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden.

As a result, a Saudi millionaire, bin Laden -- long believed to be a financier of international terrorism -- is now a prime suspect. The more so because he recently warned the United States to withdraw its military forces from Saudi Arabia, and threatened attacks on Americans, whether civilians or military. He is also suspected of masterminding previous attacks on U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Some security analysts have pondered the alternative possibility that Iran is connected with the latest bombings. Iran is suffering internal strains as moderates grouped around President Mohammad Khatami seek to loosen the hold of the conservatives led by the Mullahs. The theory in this case goes that the conservatives would support dramatic new terror attacks as a way of derailing a budding rapprochement between the United States and the Iranian liberals.

However, the attention focused on bin Laden also brings Afghanistan and its Taliban Islamic movement into the news. That is because bin Laden has long been associated with the Taliban, had once fought the Soviet occupation and is now treated as an honored guest in Afghanistan. He has spent much time there and is reported to be building a large family house in Kandahar.

Although the Taliban knows of the grave allegations that bin Laden backs international terror, they have not moved to make him less welcome in their country.

The Taliban is at last poised to gain full control of Afghanistan following weekend military victories against the opposition. The Taliban are no friends of Iran, which they accuse of supporting the Afghan opposition.

As for the Iranians, they find themselves in an ironic situation vis-a-vis Afghanistan 19 years after the seizure of American hostages in Teheran. Iran has demanded the immediate release by the Taliban of 11 diplomats it says were seized in northern Afghanistan during weekend fighting.

Iran's permanent representative for Afghanistan, Alaeddin Borujerdi, says the Iranians had been held and mistreated in contravention of all international norms. Iran is demanding their immediate release and has even urged the United Nations to take action in the case. So turns the wheel of history: Iran itself once spurned such appeals for the release of the Americans.