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British Flight Ban Upsets Kenyans - 2003-05-16


Kenyans are upset at the British government's decision to ban all flights to and from Nairobi because of terrorist threats. Fears seem to focus more on the economic impact of the ban than on an actual attack.

Kenya's Internal Security Minister, Chris Murungaru, described the British government decision to suspend all flights in and out of Kenya as extreme.

The British Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department have advised their citizens to cancel all non-essential travel to Kenya, fearing an imminent terrorist attack. The U.S. warning made specific reference to the possible shooting down of a civilian airliner.

Internal Security Ministry spokesman, Douglas Kaunda, believes the western governments have played into the hands of terrorists by, as he sees it, overreacting to the potential threat.

He is worried about the effect on Kenya's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. "Here in East Africa and in Kenya in particular, such a move will no doubt, have quite an adverse affect on our econom," he said. "So Kenyans will not view that one as a very fortunate decision. Such a decision could make the terrorists attain a moral score or a moral victory for that matter. "

On Wednesday, Kenyan authorities released a photograph of a suspected al-Qaida operative, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who they believe may be in the country and planning an attack.

However, the Kenyan government has sought to assure everyone that their security forces are on high alert and there is no need for alarm.

Some Nairobi residents are not convinced. One man, who gave his name only as Joseph, says Kenyan security forces cannot be trusted to keep out terrorists because they are too corrupt. "I think our security here is not tight," he said. "Maybe because of laxity. Some of them, they are very much corrupt. Our officers are so much corrupt, they can be used through the use of money."

Nairobi taxi driver Sammy Nyutu is already feeling the effect of the travel ban. "Sometimes I ply from the city center to the airport to ferry tourists," said Sammy Nyutu. "So far today I have not gone there because we think movement is very low. It's a blow to Kenya. It's a blow. So we hope they resume their services."

Kenya has twice been a victim of terrorist attacks in the last five years.

In November, 15 people were killed when a car bomb exploded in the reception area of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. That same day, terrorists tried to shoot down an Israeli plane leaving the Mombasa airport.

In 1998, more than 200 people died when the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was blown up on the same day as the U.S. embassy in Dar Es Salaam.

All those attacks are believed to be the work of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

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