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Mystery shrouds Somali coronavirus plane crash

May 5, 2020

Kenya has demanded an investigation into a fatal crash of a humanitarian aircraft which killed all people on board. A projectile fired from the ground reportedly hit the plane as it approached the airstrip.

The wreckage of a private cargo plane that belonged to African Express Airways and was ferrying supplies for use in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen at the crash site in the town of Bardale, southern Bay region, Somalia
Image: Reuters

Kenya's foreign ministry called for an urgent investigation on Tuesday after a humanitarian plane carrying medical supplies for the fight against the coronavirus crashed in Somalia, killing all six people on board.

According to the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority, the Kenyan-registered twin-engine private cargo plane with African Express Airways crashed Monday afternoon "under circumstances we are yet to confirm.''

The plane took off from Somalia's capital Mogadishu, stopped over in Baidoa in the country's southwestern Bay region and then continued its flight south to Bardale town where it crashed.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the incident occurred under "unclear circumstances" and warned Kenyan and other humanitarian aircraft operating in the region to "enhance extra precaution in light of the unclear circumstances surrounding the incident." 

The ministry urged Somalia to "swiftly" investigate the fatal crash because it impacts humanitarian operations "at a time of highest need" as the coronavirus outbreak worsens throughout the African continent.

Read more: Is al-Shabab looking to Ethiopia?

Official suspects plane shot down

Ahmed Isaq, a local Somali official with the Southwestern State regional administration, told various news agencies that the aircraft was shot down.

A projectile fired from the ground hit the plane as it approached the airstrip in Bay region, he said.

"The aircraft was about to land at the Bardale airstrip when it crashed and burst into flames. All six people onboard died in the incident," Isack told French news agency AFP.

The airstrip is a base for the Ethiopian military under the African Union (AU) mission tasked with combating the al-Shabab extremist group, an Islamist militant group allied to al-Qaida. Soldiers from Ethiopia and Kenya are among those deployed to Somalia as part of an AU peacekeeping mission fighting the insurgents.

Al-Shabab, which has been banned as a terrorist group by a number of countries including the UK and the US, controls parts of rural southern and central Somalia.

However, the area where the plane crash occurred is under the control of government and Ethiopian troops.

Read more: Amnesty: US in denial over killing civilians in Somalia

Tensions between Somalia and Kenya escalate

The crash comes amid strained relations between the two East African countries. In April, Kenya accused Somali troops of an "unwarranted attack" over its border near the northern town of Mandera, describing the incident as a provocation.

Kenyan authorities also said that a violent clash along the border between Somali government troops and forces loyal to Ahmed Madobe, the leader of Jubbaland – one of Somalia's five semiautonomous states – spilled over on to Kenyan territory and have since hinted that it could annex parts of Somalia to keep al-Shabab terrorists away from Kenyan territory.

Meanwhile, Somalia has long accused Kenya of interfering in its internal affairs, something Kenya has denied.

Reactions to crash

Kenyan authorities said they were in contact with the Somali Civil Aviation Authority over the plane crash.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi — nicknamed Farmajo — had ordered Somalia's civil aviation authorities work with Kenya on their investigation.

"President Farmajo invited the Kenyan civil aviation authorities to team with their Somalia counterparts with a view to completing the investigations expeditiously," the foreign affairs ministry said.

Major General Mohammed Tessema, spokesman for the Ethiopian National Defence Force, said he had no information about the crash and referred questions to "armed force commanders in Somalia."

mvb/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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