The American government has renewed its warning to civilian airlines flying in the Kenyan airspace to watch out for possible attacks by militant groups, in what could heighten anxiety for the tourism industry starting to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) said on Saturday the advisory is informed by assessments that the Somalia-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, remains an active threat in Kenya and remains in possession of weapons capable of hitting aircraft at low altitudes of up to 25,000 feet — putting at risk arrival and departure phases of flights, especially on the popular aviation route through northeastern Kenya and Somalia.
“Such weapons could target aircraft at low altitudes, including during the arrival and departure phases of flight, and/or target airports and aircraft on the ground, especially at airfields located east of 40 degrees east longitude.”
The air routes covered by the FAA warning include those connecting Nairobi and far eastern countries like Dubai (UAE), India, and China, among other destinations serviced by major airlines.
Planes plying the routes overpass eastern Kenya counties such as Garissa and exit into neighbouring Somalia.
Al-Shabaab has publicly declared intent to conduct attacks in retaliation for Kenya’s counter-terrorism operations in Somalia, which it conducts as part of the African Union Mission (Amisom).
The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) said its troops killed four Al-Shabaab militants early Saturday at Sarira, Boni Forest, in the coastal county of Lamu that neighbours Somalia.
“The militants were trying to cross the common border into Kenya during the early morning encounter. Others in the group escaped with multiple injuries to the neighbouring country,” the KDF said in a statement.
In January 2020 Al-Shabaab attacked a US military base in Lamu and killed one American soldier and two US contractors.