REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- A Kenyan arrested when police discovered a cache of hidden weapons pleaded guilty Wednesday to one of two grenade attacks this week in Nairobi, telling the court he was a member of the Somali rebel militia the Shabab.
Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, 28, admitted throwing a grenade at a bus stop Monday evening, killing one person and injuring seven. Earlier Monday, about 13 people were wounded in a grenade attack on a nightclub.
The blasts came after the Shabab, which is fighting the U.N.-backed Somali government, threatened terrorist attacks on Kenya in revenge for the Kenyan military invasion of southern Somalia almost two weeks ago. The offensive is aimed at dislodging the militant group from its bases in the port city of Kismayu.
The operation is expected to take several months, However, critics in Kenya, alarmed at the possibility of being drawn into a dangerous quagmire and facing terrorism attacks, are pressing for an exit strategy.
Police claimed Wednesday to have averted a major terrorist attack by detonating a car jammed with explosives that had been abandoned in the Kayole neighborhood outside Nairobi.
Regarding Monday's attacks, a Kenyan government spokesman told journalists that authorities had been keeping tabs on the suspect before the grenade blast at a crowded bus station. Witnesses reported seeing a car slow down and a man roll the grenade toward a crowd of people.
Oliacha was arrested Tuesday with 13 grenades, four pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle and more than 700 rounds of ammunition.
"This is a major breakthrough in the war against terrorism in the country,” Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere told journalists after the arrest. “We have also seized literature for war and others on how to make and use explosives.
"The suspect is in our custody and he is going to assist us [to] get his accomplices,” Iteere said. He said the suspect was part of a terrorist cell responsible for several attacks.
The Kenyan military operation was planned for months, and one aim is to create a buffer zone in southern Kenya against the Shabab. But the trigger for action appeared to be several recent kidnappings of foreigners, a blow to Kenya's lucrative tourist industry.
Although Kenya has blamed the Shabab for the abductions and killings of foreigners, there are many criminal gangs in the country specializing in piracy and kidnappings for ransom.
Somalia in effect has not had a central government for two decades but recently adopted a road map that is supposed to lead to elections next year. Analysts are highly skeptical that the weak transitional government is capable of implementing the plan, even with the backing of about 9,000 African Union troops.
There are reports of bombardments in Somalia, but despite previous drone attacks, U.S. officials have denied any direct role in the Kenyan military operation. France, which has promised logistical support, denied shelling or bombing Somalia.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, left, appears at the chief magistrates court in Nairobi on Wednesday, where he pleaded guilty to carrying out a grenade attack two days earlier. Credit: Noor Khamis / Reuters