Kenya criticizes U.S. over updated travel warning

September 28, 2013

Kenya on Saturday sharply criticized a decision by the United States to reissue a travel advisory for the country in the wake of the deadly attack on an upscale mall in the capital, highlighting fears that the assault could hurt the East African nation’s lucrative tourism industry.

The State Department released the updated advisory on Friday, which made specific reference to the recent terrorist attack on the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead, including several foreigners. Five Americans were injured, according to the State Department.

The advisory, similar to one issued in June, warned Americans to take precautions in light of ongoing terrorist threats and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.

It noted that U.S. authorities continue to receive information about “potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including in the Nairobi area and in the coastal city of Mombasa.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the U.S. decision to issue the statement Saturday, saying it was “unnecessary and uncalled for.” It urged Washington to withdraw the advisory and said it has made its concerns clear through diplomatic channels.

“Terrorism, such as in the attack on Westgate Mall, is a global problem. The United States itself, has suffered terror attacks before, and so have other countries right across the globe,” the ministry said. “Issuing travel advisories . . . is not what we expect of our friends.”

The militant group al-Shabab has said it carried out the mall attack to punish Kenya for sending its troops into neighboring Somalia to fight the al-Qaeda-linked militant group, which seized and held large parts of that country for years before being dislodged from the capital, Mogadishu.

Kenya’s tourism industry is one of the country’s largest sources of foreign currency. Authorities are sensitive to anything that could keep visitors away from its Indian Ocean beaches and safaris in game parks teeming with giraffes, zebras and other wild animals.

About 1.8 million tourists visited Kenya in 2011, primarily from Europe and the United States, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Phyllis Kandie, cabinet secretary for East African affairs, commerce and tourism, earlier in the week sought to assure tourists that Kenya remains a safe destination. In a statement, she said that security agencies are doing everything possible to keep the country safe and that all tourist facilities “are operating normally.”

Other countries, including Britain, Germany and Australia, also have urged citizens to be cautious.

Several foreigners were killed in the assault. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Saturday announced that it has confirmed the death of a sixth Briton. It did not release details.

FBI agents, along with investigators from Britain, Canada and Germany, are participating in the investigation of the attack. Results are not expected until later in the week at the earliest.

Kenya has protested U.S. travel notices before. In June 2012, it characterized an American advisory warning of an imminent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Mombasa as “economic sabotage.”

— Associated Press

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