Archive for Sunday, December 1, 2002

Kenya frees American questioned in bombing

December 1, 2002

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— Like most American tourists, Alicia Kalhammer came to Kenya to enjoy the wildlife and white-sand beaches, attractions that she fondly remembered from childhood.

Instead, she and her Spanish husband, Jose Tena, found themselves living every tourist's nightmare, locked in a jail for more than 48 hours on suspicion of taking part in two terrorist attacks against Israelis.

On Saturday, the Tallahassee, Fla., couple was released. Kenyan authorities, under U.S. diplomatic pressure, said that they had ruled that Kalhammer, 31, and Tena, 26, had no connection to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida group, which they believe was behind the attacks.

Kalhammer and Tena walked out of the police station flashing smiles of relief, after hours without proper food and three interrogations by Kenyan police officers.

When three suicide bombers detonated their car Thursday morning at the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, the news rippled through Le Soleil, the hotel where Kalhammer and Tena were staying, about five miles away.

Fearing for their safety, they tried to check out 90 minutes after the bombing, which killed 13 in addition to the bombers. There was a long delay because the hotel manager had ordered his staff to stall. The police had ordered him to alert them if any guest tried to check out.

Finally, the couple jumped into their rental car just as several plainclothes police rushed toward them, ordered them not to leave and told them to follow them to the police station.

Jose Tena, 26, left, originally from Madrid, Spain, and his wife,
American Alicia Kalhammer, 31, of Tallahassee, Fla., stand outside
police headquarters in Mombasa, Kenya. The couple was picked up by
Kenyan police about 90 minutes after the attack Thursday on the
Paradise Hotel. They were released Saturday.

Jose Tena, 26, left, originally from Madrid, Spain, and his wife, American Alicia Kalhammer, 31, of Tallahassee, Fla., stand outside police headquarters in Mombasa, Kenya. The couple was picked up by Kenyan police about 90 minutes after the attack Thursday on the Paradise Hotel. They were released Saturday.

At the police station, Kalhammer and Tena were not allowed phone calls, even to their families or the U.S. embassy, she said.

"Nobody knew we were here," she said.

The second day, a friend in Nairobi tracked them down and informed the U.S. Embassy. Some U.S. investigators already in the area checked on them.

"When the cavalry came in, I started crying," Kalhammer said.

The couple was questioned separately three times. In the last interrogation, which lasted 90 minutes, Kenyan detectives finally threw questions related to the attacks. But it was clear from the start that they had no evidence against the couple.

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