Al-Qaeda’s Nairobi Bomber: The Time He Got Away

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Harun Fazul, the senior al-Qaeda operative killed in Somalia last week, could have been captured at the start of his terror career fully 13 years ago. He had just overseen the crime that put the terrorist organization on the map: the Aug. 7 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands. At that time, he ranked high enough to give orders to the men who detonated the massive truck bomb he helped assemble, but not so senior that he could leave the city in advance of the blast with the elite al-Qaeda specialists. Fazul lingered leisurely in the east African country for a whole week.

In the ensuing investigation, Fazul would emerge as the “coordinator” of the Nairobi attack, pivoting between the al-Qaeda cell that had been in place in Kenya for years and the operatives who arrived specifically to carry out the bombing: an explosives specialist and the men who volunteered to die in the explosion. After the blast, he remained in Kenya until Aug. 14, when he caught a flight to his native Comoros, the strange and remote island chain in the Indian Ocean west of Madagascar. It would not be till Aug. 18 that the FBI raided the Nairobi hotel that had served as headquarters of the bombers and discovered that one of them had placed a telephone call to Comoros. The following day the U.S. ambassador to the islands (who was based in Mauritius, a neighboring island nation about 700 miles away) called the Comoran minister of the interior and asked where 733342 rang. The answer arrived overnight: it was a private line to the home of the family of Harun Fazul.

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