A Nairobi International airport in Kenya, East Africa was engulfed in fire on Wednesday and questions were raised of a terrorist link. East Africa’s busiest airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport grounded flights which left thousands of passengers stranded. The fire destroyed the main arrival halls of the airport and disrupted services for part of the day.
The fire occurred on the 15th anniversary of al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Officials state it started in the immigration and passport areas of the airport spreading through baggage check before damaging the halls. There was no immediate indication that a bomb or deliberate act was the cause said officials.
“We want to assure all investors and our international travelers that everything is being done, and that cargo and domestic flights will resume this afternoon,” said Kenya’s presidential spokesman, Manoah Esipsiu, outside of the blackened building. The six-story structure earlier was consumed with billowing black smoke and flames.
It took firefighters about three hours to bring the blaze under control which started just before dawn broke in the capital city. There were no reports of serious injuries; however an airline employee along with one passenger was hospitalized.
Questions were raised in the Nairobi airport fire; August 7, 1998 marked the Anniversary of terrorist attacks that killed over 200 people. Kenyan officials are reluctant to link the occurrence to terrorist activities. The U.S. had put out numerous alerts days before as the date approached and Kenya is a crucial Western ally.
A passenger arriving from Johannesburg, Edwin Macharia, described an explosion in the terminal building as he sat on board a plane waiting to disembark. “Huge explosion felt even in our plane. Glass on the parking spots next to the building. Feeling like a sitting duck,” he said in a tweet.
“This was likely to have been caused by the intensity of the fire and not from a bomb,” said Eric Kiraithe, head of security at Kenya Airports Authority. The fire seriously damaged parts of the airport and will take months to repair. Disruptions in service were tolerated by passengers eager to resume their regular travel activities.
“We were woken up very early,” said Anet Ross,45, visiting from Canada, “only to arrive and be told the flight has been canceled.” She and her husband had a flight home scheduled for an afternoon departure.
“I got here very early, but my agent just called me to tell me my flight has been canceled,” said Faith Imani, 25. “I am awaiting details from the airline, but we aren’t getting information.” She had driven three hours from Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, to catch a flight to Sydney.
Many are watchful of questions raised in the Nairobi airport fire. Details are slowly being investigated by officials and Michael Kamau, a senior government transportation official will divulge more in upcoming news conferences.
By Thomas Barr