FAA warning: U.S. civil aviation over Kenya to exercise extreme caution

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An FAA warning stated today, February 26, 2020, that due to cross-border extremist/militant attacks originating in Somalia, there is increasing risk to U.S. civil aviation flying into, out of, within, or over the territory and airspace of Kenya in a specified area.

As a result, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) published Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) KICZ A0022/20, advising U.S. civil aviation to exercise extreme caution in the named Kenya airspace at altitudes below FL260 east of 40 degrees east longitude.  

While primarily active in Somalia, al-Shabaab, an al-Qa’ida-affiliated extremist/militant group, is the predominate extremist/militant threat concern in Kenya and has demonstrated their capability and intent to conduct attacks targeting Kenyan government security forces, civilians, and Western interests in Kenya, including joint military airfields, primarily near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia and in the coastal region of Kenya adjacent to Somalia.

The January 5, 2020, complex attack on Camp Simba, which is co-located with Manda Bay Airport (HKLU), destroyed or damaged multiple aircraft, caused three casualties, and demonstrated al-Shabaab’s intent and capabilities to target the aviation sector.

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 defense systems (MANPADS).  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. Some MANPADS have the capability to reach a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet.    

Despite Kenya’s security efforts, al-Shabaab continues to plot high-profile attacks in Kenya, as demonstrated by the January 2019 attack on the DusitD2 compound and the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall. In addition to high-profile attacks, al-Shabaab has conducted multiple small-scale attacks against ground-based targets in eastern Kenya in the Kenya-Somalia border region.  

Al-Shabaab has publicly declared their intent to conduct attacks in retaliation for Kenya’s counterterrorism operations in Somalia, which Kenya conducts as part of the African Union mission.  AlShabaab may be emboldened following their January 2020 attack on Camp Simba and may attempt to replicate these tactics at other remote airfields. In neighboring Somalia, al-Shabaab has conducted multiple attacks targeting civil aviation, including ground assaults on Aden Adde International Airport (HCMM) and weapons fire against military and civil aircraft operating at low altitudes.  Al-Shabaab maintains the capability to develop concealed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the intent to use them against civil aviation, as demonstrated by the attack on Daallo Airlines Flight 159 in February 2016, which involved the use of an insider to help smuggle a concealed IED onto the aircraft.

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