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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

State Department Closes Kenyan Embassy for Terrorism Fears

Aired June 20, 2003 - 19:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is new concern this evening about the possibility of an anti-American attack in Africa. The State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Kenya today because of intelligence information.
National security correspondent David Ensor has the latest now from Washington -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, that information, that intelligence information indicates, according to U.S. officials, that there was a plot to try to create mass casualties at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. A plot involving -- the terrorists wanted to use a plane or a truck bomb as their weapon of choice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): The intelligence information indicates, U.S. officials say, that the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, is under imminent threat of terrorist attack by al Qaeda. It was immediately closed on word of a threat to review security procedures, officials say.

PHILIP REEKER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do monitor this very closely, as you know. East Africa has been an area of terrorist threats and indeed, terrorist attacks in the past.

ENSOR: Back in 1998 a car bomb destroyed the old U.S. embassy building in Nairobi, killing 213 people, including 12 Americans.

Last November, suicide bombers attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya's port city of Mombassa. They also narrowly missed shooting down an Israeli passenger jet.

Word of this new additional threat in Kenya came from the Pentagon in a classified warning to government agencies, calling it specific and credible. Sources told that to CNN.

Since May, Americans have been warned against travel to Kenya and the east Africa region, following a sighting in Kenya of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an al Qaeda operative on the FBI's most wanted list. That same month, British and Israeli airlines suspended the flights to Kenya because of the threats to terrorism.

Ironically at an African leader's meeting in Nairobi Friday, Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki and others issued a statement urging western governments to drop their travel bans and advisories, saying the region is safe for tourism and other investors. Famous for its safari parks, Kenya relies heavily on tourism, which has been hurt badly by the terrorism alerts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: Kenya and other countries in the horn of Africa have been the focus of intense U.S. counter-terrorism efforts for many months now. A military task force including Americans and some Europeans has been operating in the region, say U.S. officials, since late last year -- Anderson.

COOPER: David, let's move back to talking about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. I understand you have some information about this man who is now in U.S. custody, General Abid Hamid Mahmud al Tikriti. I think he was number four on the list of most wanted.

What do you have?

ENSOR: U.S. officials are now, just a few minutes ago, telling me, Anderson, that General Mahmud is talking. He's providing some limited, useful information. He has, for example, told them that as far as he knows, Saddam Hussein is still alive. He certainly was alive as the war was progressing.

However, General Mahmud says he hasn't seen Saddam in a long time. That he, Mahmud, has been hiding separately from him.

COOPER: All right. New information. David Ensor. Thanks very much for that tonight.

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