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Kenyans advised to avoid Heathrow Airport over terror threats

Saturday July 12 2014

A plane landing at Heathrow Airport in west London. Kenyans travelling abroad have been advised to avoid using the airport following information that there was substantial threat of a possible terror attack. Photo/FILE

A plane landing at Heathrow Airport in west London. Kenyans travelling abroad have been advised to avoid using the airport following information that there was substantial threat of a possible terror attack. Photo/FILE 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Kenya has advised its citizens to avoid transiting through UK’s Heathrow Airport because of “a substantial threat of possible attack” by Al-Qaeda operatives.

On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said the government had received reports of possible terrorist attacks targeting Heathrow.

“According to information provided by US officials, Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Syria were developing sophisticated bombs that could bring down a plane.

The information states that Britain would be the most likely country to be affected,” Dr Kibicho said.

“Based on this information, Kenyans are advised not to travel through London Heathrow where there is substantial threat of a possible attack,” Dr Kibicho.

ALTERNATIVE ROUTES

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In the advisory, Dr Kibicho added that Kenyans should seek alternative travel routes to the US and other European countries.

These routes include Doha in Qatar, Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Amsterdam in the Netherlands or Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

There are currently no direct flights to the US from Nairobi.

It is the first time the Kenyan government has issued a travel advisory to the UK.

Britain, the US and other Western countries have repeatedly cautioned their nationals against travelling to certain parts of Kenya because of threats of terrorist attacks.

Last month the US announced it would pull out some of its Nairobi embassy staff involved in programmes outside Kenya over security threats posed by terrorists.

There are about 130,000 Kenyans living in the UK but the government did not say whether those planning to travel there should avoid doing so.

UPDATED ADVISORY

Saturday, Britain said on its Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website in its updated travel advisory that: “To counter the shared threat of terrorism, the UK is committed to working with the Kenyan authorities to strengthen their capacity to investigate, prosecute and detain terrorists in line with international human rights standards.”

However, the reported possible ‘threat’ at Heathrow was a result of a public announcement last week by UK authorities for travelers leaving British airports to the US.

A message on the official UK government website warns those transiting to the US: “Make sure your electronic devices are charged before you travel. If your device doesn’t switch on when requested, you won’t be allowed to bring it onto the aircraft.”

So far, Heathrow and Manchester airports have taken up the directive and have informed passengers carrying electronic devices to ensure they are charged.

BATTERIES CHARGED

British Airways was among the first airlines to advise passengers of a rebook if they showed up with gadgets with ‘dead’ batteries.

This move is a follow-up to US revelations earlier this year that airports should increase security checks because of credible terrorist threats.

Al-Qaeda agents in Syria and Yemen are suspected to be developing bombs that could be difficult to detect through ordinary security scans.

This includes assembling explosives disguised as batteries and then inserting them in electronic devices to deceive security guards.

The Al-Qaeda cell known as the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have twice managed to pass bombs beyond security checks between 2009 and 2012.

Dr Kibicho did not mention whether there would be a security check upgrade at Kenyan airports.

At the moment, passengers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi are allowed to board even with gadgets that have run out of power.

International standards often require that passengers may be allowed to board with lithium batteries not exceeding 160 Watt-hours as hand luggage, as long as each battery is separated from the other to avoid causing short circuits.