The American embassy has pulled out its entire staff from Mombasa and warned its citizens of an imminent terrorist attack there.
In a note sent to all US citizens, the embassy also announced that it had suspended US Government travel to Mombasa until July 1.
“All US Government personnel are required to leave Mombasa. US private citizens are not subject to the same restrictions, but should consider this information in their travel planning.”
This comes in the wake of the arrest of two Iranians who police suspect were in the country to plot acts of terror.
On Wednesday, police in Mombasa detained two containers at the yard of a container freight station. The cargo had been tracked from Iraq by international police and is believed to have been packed with explosives.
The following day, police found 15 kg of suspected bomb-making material at Mama Ngina Drive, Mombasa.
The white powdery substance was in two rucksacks, neatly wrapped in blue polythene bags. The officers were led to the site near the Mombasa Golf Club by one of the Iranians.
At the same time, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Iran might attack Western and Israeli targets in various countries in retaliation for a spate of assassinations of nuclear scientists in the country, which it blames on Israel.
Al-Shabaab has also promised to stage attacks in retaliation for the Kenya Defence Forces mission in Somalia.
Iran was named in a 2006 United Nations report as one of seven countries breaking an arms embargo on Somalia by supplying the Shabaab with weapons. Iran has denied the claims.
The Telegraph report noted that Israel has already accused Iran of organising attacks on its diplomats in India and Georgia.
“Tehran denied involvement in the bombings, which injured several people in New Delhi. One day later, an Iranian man was seriously wounded while trying to throw a bomb at police in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.
“Experts believe that Iran might seek to retaliate for the assassination of several of its nuclear scientists in Tehran, allegedly by Israel,” read the report.
The latest warning by US authorities might hurt the tourism industry, which has recoved since the post-election crisis four years ago. But Kenyan police have moved to downplay the threat.
Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere said: “There is no cause for alarm. We have been working round the clock to ensure there is enough security in the country. We have also prevented several terror attempts linked to the terror groups.”
The police chief said police have been working with a number of foreign security forces to secure the country’s borders. Criminal Investigations Department chief Ndegwa Muhoro told the Sunday Nation the coastal town was “completely safe”.
“The issue of advisories has been there for a long time, and that does not mean that something will definitely happen. But our officers have been on the alert and the situation in Mombasa is okay,” he said.
While the US embassy in Nairobi warned Americans against travelling to Mombasa, it closed its operations there altogether and recalled government officials.
There had been reports four years ago that the US would reopen its consulate which was shut in 1993 at the Coast but that has not happened.
However, the State Department’s foreign assistance arm, USaid, is active in a number of projects at the Coast.
The US moved to construct a number of schools and inaugurate water projects in Lamu as part of outreach efforts to tackle extremism following the November 28, 2002 attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel.
On Saturday, Mr Muhoro said Kenyan police were not privy to the intelligence reports referred to by the US embassy. Coast Province police Chief Aggrey Adoli played down the warning, saying the Coast region was secure.
“We have not been consulted on that news about an imminent terror attack. We have been on top alert since last year when two visitors were kidnapped in Lamu,” he said.
“Terror threats are a global security challenge and here in the country it is everywhere and I don’t understand why they singled out Mombasa. However, we have deployed our officers and there is no cause for alarm.”
Mr Adoli urged residents not to worry but to remain vigilant while going about their chores especially in public places.