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Israeli Passengers Believed Loud 'Boom' Was Sign of Technical Mishap

Passengers targeted in Thursday's failed missile attack on an Israeli aircraft said they heard a loud "boom" just after takeoff, but were told by the crew it was a technical problem.

Kerry Levy, 25, said the aircraft's wheels had just lifted off the runway at Mombasa airport in Kenya shortly after 8 a.m. when she felt a rattle.

"It felt like something fell off the wing," she said after the plane landed safely at Ben Gurion International Airport later Thursday.

Sharon Heldth, 23, said the pilot told the 261 passengers aboard the Arkia Airlines charter flight that there apparently was a technical mishap. Only an hour before landing were passengers told the truth.

"There was a big uproar" in response, Heldth said.

Two missiles were fired toward the plane from a white four-wheel-drive vehicle parked more than a mile from the airport, said Kenyan police spokesman King'ori Mwangi. The three men in the vehicle escaped, Mwangi said.

The Israelis aboard the Arkia flight spent a week at the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in an Indian Ocean resort near Mombasa.

In a second attack Thursday, three homicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden car into the hotel, killing themselves and at least eight bystanders, including at least two Israelis.

Kenyan authorities said two Israelis were killed, while Israeli authorities put the toll at three, including two children.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but Israeli officials said there was a strong possibility Usama Bin-Laden's Al Qaeda network was involved.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked the famed Mossad spy agency to track down the assailants and those who sent them, said a Sharon adviser, Zalman Shoval.

After the missile attack, the pilot considered an emergency landing in Nairobi, Kenya, to check whether the plane was damaged, but after consultations it was decided to continue to Israel, Israeli television reports said.

Once the plane entered Israeli airspace, it was accompanied by an Israeli fighter plane, passengers said.

At about 12:40 p.m., the aircraft landed at Ben Gurion. The passengers, some of them crying, were greeted by worried relatives. Airport workers handed out red, pink and yellow roses to female passengers.

Reporters given a tour of the plane saw technicians checking the wheels, while others hoisted up on cranes checked the exterior or walked on the wings. There was no visible damage to the white-and-blue plane with orange stripes.

Arkia Airlines, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, operates mainly as a charter company with flights to numerous European and Mediterranean destinations. It owns a fleet of 42 planes.