Terrorism Warning Issued for Cross Country Championships in Kenya

The U.S. Embassy said Tuesday it has been alerted to a possible terrorist threat against this month's world cross-country championships in Kenya.

The embassy released a statement saying the threat was coming from "alleged extremist elements" and that the races "may be the target of an unspecified terrorist attack." Last month, the U.S. Embassy issued another strong warning to Americans, saying violent crime was increasing here and that Kenyan authorities have limited capacity to prevent it.

"The U.S. Embassy is also aware of public statements by leaders of Kenya's Coastal Muslim community threatening to disrupt, through unspecified means, the World Cross Country Championship if the government of Kenya does not satisfy various demands," the latest statement said.

The IAAF World Cross Country Championships are scheduled for March 24 in the coastal city of Mombasa. Athletes from 66 countries are expected to compete in the races, which are being held in Kenya for the first time.

The International Association of Athletics Federations said in a statement that Kenyan authorities assured the group Tuesday that "a specific security plan, involving all branches of the country's military and police authorities, is already in place to protect all athletes and participants during their stay in Kenya."

No further details were released about the warning, and embassy spokeswoman Jennifer Barnes had no further comment.

Muslim leaders in Mombasa in recent weeks have threatened to disrupt the international championships unless the government releases Kenyans held on suspicion of engaging in terrorism and those detained in Somalia and Ethiopia. The protests were led by Sheik Mohamed Dor, secretary-general of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.

Dor said his group will disrupt the races unless the detainees are released, but that there will be no violence.

"We are going to have a very, very big demonstration to disrupt the cross country," he told The Associated Press Tuesday. "Every international media would be in Mombasa, so we want to show the world that Kenyan Muslims are marginalized."

Kenya has been the victim of terrorism in the past. In 1998, terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 225 people. Kenya was also the site of a car bomb at a beach resort and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.

The race will feature Ethiopian great Kenenisa Bekele, who will be going for his 11th world cross country title and sixth long course victory in a row. Bekele, who swept the short and long course races at the past five championships, said last year he would not compete in the event again because there was nothing left to win.

However, Bekele announced Monday that he had changed his mind and will run in Mombasa, where he will seek to become the first runner to win six consecutive long-course titles.

"This would be great for me, for Ethiopia, for Africa and for the sport of athletics," Kenenisa said.

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