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Analysis: U.S. anti-terror aid to Africa

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- Africa's importance to the United States in the worldwide war against terrorism will be underlined over the next 15 months by a special, comprehensive $100 million commitment by Washington to help five East African nations improve their air and seaport security, border policing practices and ability to track suspected terrorists and their financial conduits.

The counter-terrorism package was announced last week by President George W. Bush in a speech outlining his African agenda in advance of next week's trip to the continent.

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"The United States is working with African nations to fight terrorists wherever they are found," he said. "Africans from Casablanca to Nairobi to Dar es Salaam have experienced firsthand the pain and the evil of terror.

"Kenya and other nations of East Africa are suffering under a particularly serious threat, and we're working closely with those nations to end this threat."

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At least 10 Kenyans and three Israelis died last year near Mombasa, on Kenya's Muslim-populated coast, when suspected al-Qaida operatives blew up at truck at the Paradise Hotel, an Israeli-owned resort that catered to Israeli tourists.

In a simultaneous attack, more than 200 people narrowly escaped death when missiles were fired at a chartered Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa's international airport.

More than 200 people died in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when al-Qaida in 1998 exploded bombs outside the U.S. embassies in those cities.

Al-Qaida is the network of Osama bin Laden, held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Details of the counter-terrorism package have not been disclosed, but a State Department spokesman told United Press International it would be an inter-agency initiative that would include training local forces in anti-terrorism methods.

The sub-Saharan countries receiving the aid are Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. Muslim Swahilis live on the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia border Somalia, where continued instability could help cover terrorist cells. Indeed, Somalia was once thought to have been a hiding place for al-Qaida members.

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Uganda borders Sudan, another strife-torn country and one in which bin Laden lived before moving his operations to Afghanistan.

U.S. naval forces often visit Mombasa, which has also been used for U.S. military activities. More than 1,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Djibouti, on the Indian Ocean and near the mouth of the Red Sea across from Yemen, where 17 U.S. sailors were killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

The Kenya-Somalia border has been a perennial sore spot for Kenyan authorities. For decades its police have had to contend with banditry in the region by heavily armed Somalis crossing the frontier.

Indeed, northern Kenya, Ethiopia's southeastern Ogaden region and Djibouti were considered by earlier Somali governments as parts of a larger Somalia, separated by arbitrary borders drawn by colonial powers.

Officials said the United States is concerned that terrorists could take advantage of poorly trained, poorly equipped African countries, using them as transit points and possibly even staging areas.

Al-Qaida is said to have once financed itself partly by purchasing illicit diamonds from rebel groups in West Africa and then selling them in Europe.

Kenya, even before than 1998 embassy attacks, has suffered the violent fallout of conflicts elsewhere in the world.

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In December 1980, the famous Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi was bombed by suspected members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The action was in retaliation for Kenya aiding Israeli commandos in the 1976 rescue of Air France passengers hijacked to nearby Entebbe, Uganda, by PFLP operatives.

At least two PFLP terrorists were rumored to have been arrested -- and later handed over to Israeli officials -- trying to shoot down an airliner at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in the late 1970s.

Fear of terrorist attacks led recently to British Airways suspending flights to Kenya, which depends heavily on international tourism. The United States also warned recently of intelligence indicating Kenya could be targeted again soon.

"Many African governments have the will to fight the war on terror, and we are thankful for that will," Bush said. "We will give them the tools and the resources to win the war on terror."

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