The US government has issued a new warning to civilian airlines flying in the Kenyan airspace to watch out for possible attacks by militant groups.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) said the advisory is consistent with the fact that Somalia-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab 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.
The US says the Al-Shabaab possesses or has access to, a variety of weapons, including small arms, indirect fire weapons such as mortars and rockets and anti-aircraft-capable weapons, including man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS).
“Such weapons present a risk to civil aircraft operating at low altitudes, including during the arrival and departure phases of flight and/or to airports and aircraft on the ground, especially at remote airfields located east of 40 degrees east longitude. Some MANPADS have the capability to reach a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet,” said the US Aviation regulator.
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.
Additionally, the FAA said, Al-Shabaab is likely to target western civil aviation considering a December 2020 incident in which the US Department of Justice announced the opening of an indictment charging Kenyan-national Cholo Abdi Abdullah with six counts of terrorism-related offences arising from his activities as an operative of the Al-Qaeda-linked terror cell. This included conspiring to hijack aircraft in order to conduct a 9/11-style attack in the US.
“This thwarted attack demonstrates al-Shabaab’s continued desire to attack US interests, potentially including civil aviation. The plot reinforces the United States’ concerns about the risk to US civil aviation in eastern Kenya in the Kenya-Somalia border region and the coastal region of Kenya adjacent to Somalia,” said the US government.
Al shabaab has launched a series of terror attacks in Kenya in protest of “Operation Lindi Nchi”, launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2011. Some of the deadly attacks include the 2013 Westgate Attack, the 2015 Garissa University Attackthat left 148 students dead and the 2019 14 Riverside Drive Dusit Complex attack.