NAIROBI, Kenya — Officials in Kenya say that two Iranian agents arrested with explosives planned to attack Israeli, American, British or Saudi Arabian targets inside Kenya.
The officials said Monday that the plot appears to fit into a global pattern of attacks or attempted attacks by Iranian agents, mostly against Israeli interests.
Kenyan security forces arrested Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi in June with 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of explosives.
One official said the two are members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite and secretive unit. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing security issues.
A source in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office tied the attempted attack to other similar incidents around the world in the past year.
“Iranian terror has no boundaries. After Iran sent its men to try to kill the Saudi ambassador on American soil, and carried out terror attacks in Azerbaijan, Bangkok, Tbilisi, New Delhi, now its intention to carry out an attack on African soil was exposed. The international community needs to fight against the world’s biggest exporter of terror,” the source said.
Mohammad on Wednesday said the two were interrogated by Israeli agents, a claim that, if true, would suggest security officials believe the Iranians might have been targeting an Israeli-owned property. Iranian agents are suspected in several attacks or thwarted attacks around the globe in the past year, including in Azerbaijan, Thailand and India. Most of the plots had connections to Israeli targets.
Several resorts on Kenya’s coast are Israeli-owned. Terrorists in 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned luxury hotel near Mombasa, killing 13 people. They also tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time. An al-Qaida operative was linked to those attacks.
Israel’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, Yaki Lopez, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that “this whole incident is an internal Kenyan issue.” He said he had no further comment, including on whether Israeli agents were involved in interrogations.
Human rights lawyers say interrogations of suspects by foreign security agents in Kenya are unconstitutional unless the suspects were also to be taken to face charges in the foreign country.
Mohammad also told the court he was tortured in Kenyan custody. He said he went without food for long periods and that he was forced to sleep on a cement floor with only his jacket to keep him warm. Police prosecutor Daniel Musangi denied the accusations that the suspects were tortured. Magistrate Paul Biwott said the allegations were serious and ordered an investigation.
Days after the arrest of the Iranians, the US government, citing information about an imminent terrorist attack, withdrew its government workers from Mombasa and issued an alert last Friday warning against non-essential travel to Kenya’s second largest city. But the warning may not have been linked to the Iranians. On Sunday attackers carried out a grenade and gunfire attack on a bar outside Mombasa, killing three people and wounding 25.
Kenya has seen a spate of attacks in recent months following the country’s decision last October to send troops into neighboring Somalia to fight al-Shabab militants. However, al-Shabab and its partner organization al-Qaida have not traditionally used Iranian operatives in its operations.
The two Iranians were charged Monday. Prosecutors say they were in possession of explosives known as RDX “in circumstances that indicated they were armed with the intent to commit a felony namely, acts intended to cause grievous harm.”
RDX is a powerful military-grade explosive. They denied both charges and through a translator asked for bond.
On Wednesday, lawyer David Kirimi, who represents Mohammad and Mousavi, argued that the two suspects are investors and their arrests will harm Kenya-Iran relations. But Biwott dismissed that argument, citing the magnitude of the accusations. Musangi, the police prosecutor, said the two were likely to flee if released.