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Nairobi airport resumes domestic, cargo flights after blaze

Nairobi has reopened its airport for domestic and cargo flights after a major fire, but the international terminal remains closed. A Kenyan official has said he does not believe the blaze was connected to terrorism.

Kenya's transport secretary, Michael Kamau, told reporters on Wednesday that the domestic terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport would be temporarily used for international flights. Kamau said the hope was for international flights to resume on Thursday.

"From tomorrow we will be preparing this unit…as an international terminal for departures and arrivals," he said. "We started pitching tents on the airside for handling departing passengers." 

For now, international flights have been re-directed to Mombasa, Kenya's second city, as well as Uganda's Entebbe and Rwanda's Kigali airports.

Meanwhile, Kenya's top anti-terrorism cop told Reuters news agency that the fire was not linked to terrorism. Wednesday's blaze coincided with the 15th anniversary of the twin attacks by al Qaeda militants on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but no link to terror has been found.

"There is no connection with any sort of attack or terrorism," Boniface Mwaniki told Reuters. "We don't want to speculate, but at this point we do not think there is any such link. Even if we are commemorating the 15th anniversary of the bomb blasts, we don't think it is terrorism."

Slow to respond

The fire broke out around 5 a.m. local time Wednesday morning in the immigration section of the airport, according to a civil aviation authority quoted by Reuters. But the blaze quickly spread through the airport, sending billows of black smoke into Nairobi's sky. There have been no reported casualties.

Witnesses and officials have said that firefighters were to slow to respond to the scene. The Associated Press (AP) reported that many of the fire units were actually private contractors and had to fight their way through heavy traffic to reach the airport.

"I would have expected more fire engines to respond faster," Martyn Collbeck, who had been scheduled to fly to London on an early morning KLM flight, told the AP.

Barry Fisher, a passenger whose flight to Ethiopia was cancelled because of the fire, said that nobody had cleared traffic for the first responders to reach the airport.

"There was no one stopping any traffic going to the road to the airport," Fisher told AP. "A number of fire trucks and ambulances were trying to negotiate their way through the lane…They were trying to weave their way through a solid two lanes of cars."

slk/tm (AP, AFP, Reuters)