Two of the suspected bombers in last week’s botched attack on London’s transport network travelled to the UK on Kenyan passports, Scotland Yard announced yesterday.
The two, who police say were originally from Somalia, were now on the run and might have fled to Holland, where there is a big Somali community.
Officers from UK’s metropolitan police anti-terror unit might fly to Nairobi this week as the search widens, a Yard spokesman said.
Anti-terror police in London say they believe there is an active Al Qaeda cell in Kenya, and want to question people believed to be connected with it.
Kenya has been targeted twice by terrorists: first during the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi when 224 people died and 5,000 were injured and again in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli owned hotel in Kikambala, Kilifi District, when 15 people were killed.
The failed bomb attack on a London bus and the underground rail network last Thursday triggered an urgent scrutiny by British immigration officials of records of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers from East Africa in their search for the bombers, according to reports in The Times of London.
Police believe the men have been living in Britain for some time and were not smuggled into the country just ahead of their attempted suicide attacks.
They are believed to have family in the UK as well as links with the substantial Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian communities around London.
The Times reported that East African community leaders in London had been asked to help police in Britain’s biggest manhunt.
Britain’s Home Office says 6,010 Kenyans applied for asylum in the last 10 years, of whom 440 were given asylum or allowed to stay in the UK. There are no figures for how many of those refused asylum have been returned home, according to The Times report.
Home Office figures show that 45,815 Somalis – minus dependents – applied for asylum in Britain between 1993 and 2004.
Of these, 30,875 were given asylum or allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds, said The Times.
Detectives have been searching an address where one of the suspects lived in north London.
Both would-be suicide bombers of Somali origin lived in Kenya, later acquiring Kenyan passports to travel to London, before claiming political asylum.
A relative of one of them, who was at the family’s house provided by the local London council’s social services department, told the Nation he was living in Mombasa before travelling to Wales and claiming political asylum.
The relative, known only as Fatuma, told the media before being led away by police: “He lived in Kenya before coming to London. He is a staunch Muslim and for sure, he might not be involved.”
Then she added: “Even if he is, then it might be influence from other people he hangs out with.”
Police said all the devices used by last Thursday’s would-be bombers were placed within plastic food containers which were then put in dark rucksacks.
Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorism branch, said the containers were made in India and sold by only around 100 outlets in the UK.
They were six-and-a-quarter litres in size and had white lids.
Until now there have not been reports of militants from East Africa having been heavily involved in terror cells in Western capitals.
Intelligence agencies have, however, long suspected that sleeper cells from the region could be in Britain awaiting their orders, according to The Times.
Scotland Yard is anxious not to antagonise law-abiding communities but points out that the men could have taken advantage of the regular humanitarian crises and conflicts from their home countries like Somalia and Ethiopia to claim refugee status in the West.
Immigration authorities say 4,635 Ethiopians applied for refugee status, of whom 690 were given asylum. Failed asylum-seekers are not sent back to the two countries because of the violence and upheaval there.
The Times says Western intelligence agencies have given warning of a new generation of terror camps being set up by militant groups in the region. The FBI describe the porous borders of East Africa as the weakest link in their war on terror.
US agents say they have new evidence that militant groups with links to Al-Qaeda have set up bases in lawless pockets of Somalia and Ethiopia, and smuggled their trained recruits in and out of Kenya.
The organisers of the new camps are said to be veterans of training camps in Afghanistan.
UN investigators said that the groups had set up their camps along the Kenyan coastal strip and in North Eastern province. Supporters of Osama bin Laden have long used the region as a sanctuary. Terror groups sponsored by Al-Qaeda set up bases in 1996 in Lamu and at Ras Kiamboni, on the Kenya-Somalia border.
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the British government had not officially informed the Kibaki Administration of other possible link.
However, the Government knew that those involved in the bombing attempt bore names similar to those found in East Africa.
But Dr Mutua added they were not necessarily Kenyans because the region was bigger than Kenya.
He added: “We don’t have any indication that the suspected bombers were Kenyans.”
Dr Mutua said Kenya collaborated with the British security agencies and would be willing to help in the investigations.
But Kenya would not allow the British agencies to interrogate Kenyans. Instead Kenyans would conduct the interrogations and relay the results to their British counterparts, he said.
Foreign Affairs minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere who is in London on official duty said he was not aware of the issue and instead referred the Nation to the Immigration department.
Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati and the director of operations David Kimaiyo said they were not aware of any planned visit by the British security team.
And they admitted Kenyan police were also not aware that those who were involved in the bombing attempt had travelled on Kenyan passports.