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Netanyahu: No, I Was Not Almost Assassinated in Kenya

The Israeli prime minister claims to know nothing at all about reports he was almost assassinated in Kenya.

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Earlier this week, it seemed impossible that there could be any moment on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to east Africa stranger than when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly called Israel “Palestine” during his welcome speech in Entebbe.

But that was before rumors began to swirl that Netanyahu narrowly avoided an assassination attempt in Kenya, the second stop on his four-country tour during the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to sub-Saharan Africa in some 30 years.

According to Netanyahu, the first he heard of any threat to his life came during a press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa, after he had already left Nairobi, when a journalist asked whether the Israeli leader’s convoy changed driving routes in Kenya in order to avoid an explosive detected on the road. The question came after Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al-Jarida published an anonymously sourced article claiming that was the case.

“The answer is we know nothing about it because there is nothing in it,” Netanyahu said in response.

The Israeli leader’s trip, which includes stops in Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, is intended to improve security ties between Israel and Africa, where relations have been shaky for the past four decades, since Arab nations promised aid to many African nations if they essentially cut ties with Israel. Netanyahu’s narrative this week has focused largely on the importance of cooperation in the face of growing terrorist threats, most notably in Kenya, where al-Shabab extremists have targeted civilians and ex-pats in various bloody attacks in recent years.

The original Kuwaiti report did not specify whether al-Shabab was responsible for the alleged thwarted attack, but claimed that at least two people were arrested in Nairobi.

“At the beginning, the Israelis decried the security arrangements in Kenya,” the newspaper quoted the source as saying. “However, after the convoy changed its course and arrived in a safe hotel, it was discovered that Kenyan intelligence exposed a plan to attack vehicles in the original course. Thus, the decision to change the course saved the Israeli delegation.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government, which has historically been sensitive about its ongoing battle with the Somalia-based terrorist group, backed Netanyahu’s denial that any such assassination attempt occurred.

“An attempted assassination can’t be secret,” Mwenda Njoka, a spokesman for the Kenyan Interior Ministry, told the Associated Press. “It has to be something visible, and to my knowledge there was absolutely nothing of the sort.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon reiterated that claim, calling the Kuwaiti report “simply not true.”

Photo credit: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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