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Kenya police: Imminent attack by suicide bombers thwarted

Khalil Senosi / AP

Kenya Police spokesman View Eric Kimathi displays seized arms and ammunition to journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday.

NAIROBI -- Kenyan police seized a cache of explosive-laden vests, grenades and automatic rifles in an overnight raid on a Nairobi apartment Friday, thwarting an imminent attack by Somali Islamist militants, a senior police official said. 

East Africa's biggest economy has been on a heightened state of security since Nairobi sent troops into Somalia to crush al-Qaida-linked insurgent group al-Shabab, which carried out a double suicide bombing in neighboring Uganda in 2010. 

Western embassies in Kenya have warned of potential attacks several times in the last nine months. 

"Obviously these are al-Shabaab items. This is a very organized team that is ready to cause big problems in the country," Moses Ombati, Nairobi's deputy police chief, told reporters at the apartment where the weapons were seized. 

"They were about to start executing their mission," he said. 

Acting on a tip-off, officers from the Crime Prevention Unit raided an apartment in the capital's Eastleigh district, dubbed "Little Mogadishu" because of its large ethnic Somali population, and arrested two men. 

Bombs ready for use
As the dawn call to prayer rang out from nearby mosques, police displayed the six suicide bomber vests, 12 grenades and four AK-47s with more than a dozen loaded magazines. 

Wiring could be seen protruding from wrapped-up bundles stuffed into the vests. Police said the neatly arranged packages contained explosives and were ready to be used. They also seized several mobile phone they said would likely have been used to trigger the bombs. 

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The Kampala bombings that killed 79 soccer fans watching the World Cup final were al-Shabaab's first on foreign soil and highlighted both their intent and capability to strike beyond Somalia's borders. 

Al-Shabaab has threatened to bring down skyscrapers in the Kenyan capital. Counter-terror experts have doubted their ability to wage such a large-scale strike, but say they would have the capacity to attack soft targets such as bars and hotels. 

"We believe they were intending to attack (sites) where there are big crowds, such as super markets, bars, churches and bus stations," Ombati said. 

Kenya has been dogged over the last year by a wave of explosions and gun attacks blamed on al-Shabaab and their sympathizers in Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and towns along its porous border with Somalia.

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