NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Two Iranians who led authorities to a cache of explosives after their arrest planned to attack Israeli, U.S., British or Saudi targets inside Kenya, officials told The Associated Press on Monday.
The two are believed to be members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite and secretive unit that acts against foreign interests, one of the officials said.
The foiled attack appeared to fit into a global pattern of alleged plots by Iranian agents. Previous plots were uncovered in the U.S. — against Saudi Arabia's ambassador — as well as in Thailand, Azerbaijan and India.
Kenyan security forces arrested the Iranians on June 19 and were then led to 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of RDX, a powerful explosive that could have been used against multiple targets or concentrated in one large bomb. If used together, the explosives could have leveled a medium-sized hotel, officials told AP. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The two suspects — Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi — appeared in a Kenyan court last week, where Mohammad said he had been interrogated by Israeli agents. Israel's embassy said it had no comment.
In Israel, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the AP that "there are no limits to the Iranian terror."
"After Iran sent its people to assassinate the Saudi ambassador on American soil and carry out attacks in Azerbaijan, Bangkok, Tbilisi and New Delhi, now its intention to carry out attacks in Africa is revealed. The international community needs to fight the world's greatest exporter of terror," said a statement from Netanyahu's office.
Given the previous alleged plots against Israeli interests overseas, it appeared likely that Israeli properties in Kenya were the likely primary targets, said one of the two officials, a Western diplomat.
Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the alleged plot fits into a pattern of Iranian actions against Israel.
Israel wants Iran to be prevented from developing a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as generating electricity and medical research.
Five Iranian scientists with links to Tehran's nuclear program have been killed in the last two years, and Iran has blamed Israel — as well as U.S. and British intelligence agencies — for the attacks. In return, Israel blames Iran for alleged reprisal missions on Israeli property and personnel overseas.
Iran has denied any links to attacks outside its borders.
"It is much more likely if they were to do anything in Africa that they would try to find Israeli targets rather than U.S., British or Saudi targets," Cordesman said. "The reason basically is that to some extent, there is an al-Quds operation against Israel, which is a reprisal to Israeli attacks on Iranian physicists and scientists."
Several resorts on Kenya's coast are Israeli-owned, as is Nairobi's largest and newest shopping mall. Militants in 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned luxury hotel near the coastal city of Mombasa, killing 13 people. The militants also tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time. An al-Qaida operative was linked to those attacks.