Image: Nairobi court
Karel Prinsloo  /  AP
Salmin Mohammed Khamis, left, Said Saggar Ahmed, center, and Kubwa Mohammed Seif listen Monday, June 27 in a Nairobi court as they are acquitted. The three Kenyan men had been charged in an al-Qaida-linked bombing.
updated 6/27/2005 1:12:40 PM ET 2005-06-27T17:12:40

A Kenyan magistrate acquitted three Kenyan men on Monday who had been charged in an al-Qaida-linked bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.

The acquittals mean the first attempts by authorities in the East African country to seek convictions against alleged terrorists have yielded no convictions, though one of the men found not guilty in an earlier trial faces additional charges.

In Monday's ruling, Nairobi Chief Magistrate Aggrey Muchelule said that none of the evidence presented by the prosecution connected the three men — Kubwa Mohammed Seif, Said Saggar Ahmed and Salmin Mohammed Khamis — to the bombing or to the attempt to down the plane in November 2002. Fifteen people died in the hotel bombing.

"I have considered the evidence in totality and I have come to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed beyond reasonable doubt to prove its case against the accused persons and I set them free," Muchelule said.

An earlier trial acquitted four other men of murder in the car bombing of the hotel, which was in Kikambala, about 12 miles north of the port of Mombasa. One of the men acquitted in the murder trial was later charged with illegal possession of five anti-tank weapons and a hand grenade.

Defense felt there were international pressures
Defense lawyers had charged the hotel murder trial was the result of pressure from America, Britain and Israel for Kenya to take action — an allegation Kenyan officials deny.

In the conspiracy trial, the judge said Monday that police relied "on circumstantial evidence, which they have failed to prove."

Seif, Ahmed and Khamis had also earlier been charged with conspiring to blow up the United States Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and 2003, but the prosecution dropped those charges on May 10.

Seif's lawyer, Kirathe Wandugi, said that he was extremely happy with the magistrate's decision.

"Our clients have been exonerated and the course of justice has been met. It's been a very long trial. These people have suffered, two and a half years have gone." Wandugi said.

He said that his client and the other two may consider suing the government for wrongful arrest because they believe their being held in custody for about two and half years was due to pressure from the United States.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network claimed responsibility for the hotel bombing and for a near simultaneous attempt to shoot down the Israeli charter airliner taking off from nearby Mombasa airport. The shoulder-fired missiles narrowly missed the aircraft.

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