MOMBASA, Kenya – Khamis Haro Deche may have been the last person to speak with the homicide bombers who blew up an Israeli-owned hotel here. The farmer recalls a brief conversation with two men in a car, followed by an explosion that shook his house.
Deche, 39, lives just over half a mile from the Paradise Hotel, where 16 people were killed in the Nov. 28 attack. Police said that three homicide bombers were among the dead.
Just minutes before the hotel bombing, two Strella missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane departing from Mombasa's airport, in what was the first phase of the dual attack on Israelis in Kenya.
Deche said that morning, shortly after 8:00 a.m., a brown Mitsubishi Pajero with tinted windows and a red stripe pulled into his yard. He approached the car and saw two men — a slight young man with a nervous manner in the passenger seat, and an older, stockily built driver.
He leaned inside the vehicle to shake the hands of both men and saw no other people in the car. He did see, however, several cellular phones on the dashboard.
The man in the passenger seat spoke in Arabic-accented, hesitant Kiswahili — Kenya's common language — and told Deche that he and the driver were waiting for a friend coming from the direction of the Paradise Hotel.
Initial reports spoke of three men in the homicide vehicle, one of whom jumped out and blew himself up in the hotel lobby after the car had crashed through the gate.
Deche said he became suspicious because there had been thefts in the area, so he took note of the license number — KAA 853N. He said Kenyan police and some "white men" who questioned him a day later told him the two men in the vehicle were suspects in the hotel bombing.
An explosion shook his house shortly after the car drove off in the direction of the hotel, he said. Survivors at the hotel said the blast occurred around 8:35 a.m.
"These are not good people; I shook hands with fires. I did not know. If you shake hands with a fire, you will be burned," the farmer said outside his mud-and-palm thatch house.
Back at the scorched remains of the Paradise Hotel Sunday, Kenyan bomb specialists said parts of the vehicle used to carry out the attack were found up to 2,800 feet from the site.
Investigators also said they found parts of two gas welding cylinders which they suspect were fastened to the vehicle's underside to create a bigger explosion at the hotel, located 12 miles north of the port city of Mombasa.
Kenyan police officials said Israeli authorities want to take the vehicle parts as well as the launchers and missile casings found at the firing near Mombasa airport back to Israel.
But the Kenyans are insisting that the evidence remain in the East African nation, saying it is their responsibility to handle it.
The issue of Kenya's ability to carry out the investigation was raised by Sen. Robert Graham of Florida, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Graham told Fox News Sunday that Kenya's "capability to do comprehensive investigation is limited. So therefore, I imagine that it will be primarily U.S. and Israeli intelligence officers who will be trying to unravel what happened in Kenya last week."
Graham said the attacks had probably been carried out by a Somali-Kenyan group he called Islamyia in conjunction with Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
A day after the bombing, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, said initial suspicion centered on Al Qaeda and al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a Somali Islamic group that was put on a list of international terrorist organizations after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The border with Somalia, a lawless nation that has not had an effective government for more than a decade, lies 217 miles north of the Paradise Hotel.
Although police were still holding several Somali and Pakistani men they had picked up from a boat in Mombasa's port for questioning shortly after the attacks, there was no further comment on the progress of the investigation.
Deche said he was certain the men who pulled up in his yard were not from Somalia.
He had bitter words for the perpetrators of the attack, noting that they stole not only lives, but jobs from the community. Two of his young daughters earn money delivering firewood to the hotel.
"(The terrorists) have spoiled our world in Kenya," Deche said.