The 23-year-old beautiful German blonde did not know that Mossad, the Israel security agents, in Nairobi were waiting for her.
Her name was Monika Haas, though nobody seemed to know her second name.
In later East Germany intelligence files, she was Monica H. But this time at Embakasi Airport, the morning of January 25, 1976, she was travelling on a stolen passport and a fictitious name.
A small team of Special Branch officers sent by James Kanyottu, the head of the Special Branch, watched as the unaccompanied young woman travelling on a tourist visa entered the international arrivals.
A few days earlier, she had applied for a visa to Kenya at the British-run Consulate in Lebanon.
Monica was on a risky mission. She was to find the whereabouts of five terrorists who had been sent to Nairobi with two Russian-made Strella ground-to-air missiles to shoot down an El Al — Israel’s national airline- Boeing 707 flight — as it approached the airport. The five had disappeared without trace.
The group had been sent to Nairobi by the Beirut-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Baader-Meinhoff to bring down the plane.
Last week, when President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as “a great field commander and great military strategist,” few remembered the story of Monica Haas and how Sharon was instrumental, as security advisor to Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, in smoking out Palestinian terrorists from Kenya.
Few could have related his comments to the story of how Kenya became the target of Palestinian terrorists.
Before Monica was arrested, both Mossad and Special Branch had on January 21, 1976, managed to arrest a German couple Brigitte Schultz and Thomas Reuter and their three Palestinian allies before they had accomplished their mission.
It all started at the British consulate in Beirut when the three Palestinians, then under surveillance by Mossad, applied for tourist visas to Kenya. By then, the British were managing Kenya’s visa applications in Lebanon. The man behind this mission was Wadia Haddad, a radical Palestinian hijacker and bomber.
Haddad was eyeing Nairobi after his group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was frustrated from bringing down EL Al planes or hijacking them, by stringent security measures in Western airports. Also, he had fallen out with his boss, George Habbash who had decided to abandon hijacking of planes as a means of popularising the Palestinian cause, arguing that it was denting the image of Yasser Arafat’s, the Palestine Liberation Organisation head (PLO).
As a result, Haddad formed his own terror group whose mission was to target Israeli planes and demand release of Palestinian prisoners. From his South Yemen base, Haddad picked Nairobi as his first target.
EXPULSION OF PLO
The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 and the expulsion of PLO from its Tunis headquarters had forced PLO sympathisers to South Yemen where terror group cells from East Germany, West Germany and their Soviet trainers arrived in droves. Monika Haas, then possibly 21, was among the Germans who arrived in South Yemen.
Previously, Monika had managed to penetrate the system and once worked as a telephone operator at the headquarters of the US military in Frankfurt. After the arrest of some members of Baader-Meinhoff, she left for South Yemen in 1975 with members of other terror groups – Red Army Faction, Basque Fatherland and Liberty and 2 June Movement. Because of her striking looks, Palestinians nicknamed her “the beauty” and started training her as an “advance scout and courier of weapons.”
In these camps, she befriended Haddad’s deputy Zaki Helou and they “got married.”
Ariel Sharon followed the militancy of this group and had the Mossad follow their trail. He kept Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin informed, according to various intelligence works.
Back in East Africa, the Palestinians had the sympathy of Uganda’s President Idi Amin who offered to help them advance their cause. It was Amin’s agents who transported the missiles from Kampala at the time the first three Palestinian strikers arrived in Nairobi. Still trailed by security agents, they hired a vehicle and transferred their arsenal on January 18.
Then they drove towards the then empty grasslands of Embakasi and waited for the El Al plane which had 110 passengers on board. With them were two SAM-7 missile launchers with an explosive warhead capable of blowing up the plane.
Fired like a bazooka, the Soviet-made missiles have a heat-seeking device that follows the hot exhaust of the engine and explodes on impact.
Both Mossad and Kenya’s security found them here. They had no place to run.
Back in South Yemen Haddad waited in vain for the breaking news from Nairobi. After three days and with no word on the whereabouts of the three Palestinians, he panicked. He decided to send the German couple – both aged 23 — Reuters and Shultz — to investigate and if possible, accomplish the mission. They were arrested too at the arrivals section of the airport and they joined the three missing Arabs at the police cells.
The arrest of Shultz and Reuters shocked the cell and Haddad picked Monika, the German wife of his deputy Helou, to go to Nairobi and investigate their whereabouts. But once again, Mossad and the Kenya intelligence were waiting for her at the airport and she was arrested. According to a later report by Los Angeles Times quoting her son, Franz, she offered to cooperate (possibly as a double agent) and was thus released. Frank told the paper that the agents interrogated her “very undemocratically.” She never revealed what happened to her in Nairobi only that Kenya police threatened to put her “six feet under.”
While Monika was set free, Mossad secretly took away the rest to Israel. The West Germany government, prodded by Schulz’s parents, enquired from the Kenya government whether they had arrested the German couple. Kenya denied any knowledge. Meanwhile, Monika found her way back to South Yemen and rejoined the terror group. Some suspected that she was now a double agent for Mossad and West Germany within PFLP.
The disappearance – and even whereabouts — of Haddad’s group in Nairobi became a top secret between Mossad and Kenya’s security agents. It was not until June 1976 when the matter was brought to the fore after an Air France jet, flying from Tel Aviv to Paris was seized by Palestinian hijackers who forced the pilot to fly to Entebbe, Uganda.
In Uganda, Haddad’s men allowed the non-Jewish hostages to disembark and held more than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers. They demanded the release of “prisoners of war” who had been arrested in Nairobi and others held in Israel, Germany, Switzerland and France. Kenya denied holding any such prisoners.
The minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Munyua Waiyaki said Kenya was holding no Palestinian prisoners. The matter was also complicating the country’s non-aligned foreign policy and going against other African countries desire to snub Israel.
To wriggle out of this mess, Kenya once again worked with Mossad and Israel soldiers in organising what came to be known as “Entebbe raid” where Israeli soldiers managed to rescue all the hostages besides crippling Idi Amin’s Air force.
Although an Israeli-born lawyer Lea Tsemel tried to pursue the whereabouts of the Nairobi five, it was not until February 1977 that Israel informed the West German government that they were all in custody in Tel Aviv.
For her spirited fight for the Palestinians in Tel Aviv courts, Tsemel had been called names: “a “traitor,” “communist,” “whore,” “Palestinian lover,” “self-hating Jew”.
It was these episodes that made Sharon have a soft spot for Kenya which had a sizeable population of Jews and investments. Again, before Kenya joined other African countries in cutting off diplomatic ties with Israel over the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it had succeed in training Kenya’s intelligence personnel, doctors and scientists under its Ashav programme.
With these Israeli-trained intelligence officers, Mossad set up a strong base in Nairobi and had closer links to Kenya’s Special Branch than any other nation.
Mossad in Nairobi was a product of President Jomo Kenyatta’s closeness to Golda Meir, whose visit to Kenyatta’s Gatundu home in 1962, when she was Foreign minister, solidified the trust between the two leaders. Meir and Kenyatta had secretly organised the training of several Kanu nominees in Israel in a bid to build an elite security force after Kenya’s independence.
This was the Special Branch who were recruited by a Mr E. Peled. Among those sent to Israel, after interviews at Embassy Hotel, for specialised training included Mau Mau general Waruhiu Itote, aka Gen China.
Meanwhile after the 1976 El Al fiasco, only East Germany appeared to have a clue on what Monika became– a Mossad double agent. On October 13, 1977, a German television reported that a file belonging to an undercover agent known as Monika H., a state security employee, and with contacts with Mossad had been discovered.
The wrath of Haddad’s group would emerge in 1980 when one of its members, 34-year-old Muradi Aksali, travelling with a Maltese passport, managed to bomb the Jewish-owned Norfolk Hotel, then owned by Abraham Block’s family. Why Haddad’s Popular Front decided to retaliate a week after the German couple was released from an Israeli jail was not clear.
But the Popular Front, which claimed responsibility, said it was retaliating against Kenya for allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during the Entebbe raid. Shortly after, Monika divorced her Palestinian husband and returned home where she continued to use her real name. Before she left South Yemen, she handed over her weapons to Palestinian guerillas.
As she arrived in Frankfurt, nobody knew that she was the mysterious woman with an infant daughter and a stolen passport who had in 1977 smuggled pistols and hand grenades in a pram past security guards at an airport in the Spanish island of Mallorca.
This led to the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane that was diverted to Mogadishu. Also, she was behind the murder of the German industrialist Hans-Martin Schleyer and the death of Andreas Baader and two other leaders of the Red Army Faction.
The identity of Monika Haas became known after the fall of Berlin Wall when West Germany seized some intelligence files from East Germany. The files had a dossier showing that she was the mystery woman with the baby carriage. She was jailed for five years.
Monika did not spill the beans on her role as an undercover agent. But Kenya remained the target of Arab terrorists.
In 2002, when Sharon was Prime Minister he would send hundreds of Israeli troops and secret service agents to Mombasa after al-Qaeda tried to bring down an Israeli charter flight carrying 271 passengers.
The terrorists also bombed the Jewish-run Paradise Hotel in Mombasa. While Mossad is usually never sent to such ventures abroad, Kenya’s intelligence has a deep history with Israel ever since the Monica Haas affair. It explains why the Israeli Embassy remains one of the most fortified in Kenya with hawk-eyed security demanding everyone to open their car boots.