Egyptian group tops bombing suspect list Egyptian Islamic Jihad named as possible culprit

August 15, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NAIROBI, Kenya -- An Egyptian terrorist group financed by a fugitive Saudi Arabian Islamic fundamentalist is now the leading suspect in the twin bombings that killed 257 people at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials.

According to U.S. officials who asked not to be identified, a Kenyan security guard at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi picked an operative from the terrorist network of Saudi multimillionaire Osama bin Laden from photographs shown to him by FBI investigators in Nairobi. Law enforcement officials said the FBI included pictures of several known bin Laden associates in the photos that are being shown to eyewitnesses to the blasts in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Although the guard said he had seen the man near the embassy in Kenya, law enforcement officials said they consider the identification tentative and cautioned that it is likely to be weeks or months before they can pin down responsibility for the blasts.

"It will take at least four more weeks to complete the examination of both bomb sites and witness interviews, and from that we will develop leads," said assistant FBI director Thomas Pickard, the head of the bureau's criminal investigations division.

Nevertheless, both intelligence and law enforcement officials in Washington, who also agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, said intelligence and other evidence increasingly suggests that the synchronized bombings may have been the work of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group supported by bin Laden, a wealthy member of a prominent Saudi family who now lives in Afghanistan.

The attacks in Africa "have the fingerprints of Egyptian Islamic Jihad," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counter-terrorism operations at the CIA. Officials in the CIA's Operations Directorate and Counter-Terrorism Center agree, and have circulated memos naming the Egyptian group, also known as al-Jihad, as the most likely culprit in the bombings. In July, the group warned that it was preparing to attack American targets.

The investigation into the bombings took another major step forward yesterday as Kenyan and Tanzanian officials agreed to allow key pieces of evidence -- including parts of the flatbed truck believed to have carried the Nairobi bomb -- to be taken to the United States for analysis.

Pub Date: 8/15/98

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