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Detectives suspect Jomo Kenyatta International Airport fire was set up

jkia-fire2Several top investigators suspect the fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was set on purpose to destroy high-tech passenger screening equipment installed in July last year.

The equipment was introduced as part of efforts to tackle drug trafficking and terrorism. Its loss could mean a major drop in the number of couriers caught with narcotics on transit through the country.

Highly placed sources told The Standard On Saturday the investigation was looking at an arson attack as the most likely cause of the fire and say the equipment could have been the target.

Investigators also believe the delayed response to the fire was deliberate to exacerbate the ravages of the inferno.

Multiple investigating officials in the team seeking answers to the cause of the fire said that several theories, including a terror attack, have been scuttled.

The detectives, who are working together with America’s Federal Bureau of Investigations ( FBI), have narrowed their search to “a few individuals” whom they say would be questioned further, as it became apparent that the blaze was not a result of an ‘ordinary accident’.

“We have cracked it now and the most likely lead we are following is arson,” said a detective involved in the probe who requested anonymity. He said some of the evidence gathered by the team suggested the fire started from more than one point. This would suggest someone set the fires.

Samples

“Our focus has been how the fire could have spread so fast showing a deliberate delay in raising the alarm when smoke was detected,” he added. A likely conclusion from the investigation, our source said, was that the alarm was raised when the fire had already spread.

“The unanswered question was why the response was delayed,” the source said. “But we have ascertained that the alert went out too late.”

Another official in the team, a chemist, confirmed the position that an electric fault had been ruled out. “A delay in switching out the power played a part in the spread of the fire but an electric fault was not the primary cause,” said the chemist.

(Read:Was sabotage to blame for the JKIA fire disaster? Investigators seek answers)

Close-Circuit Television footage of the arrivals unit was under scrutiny from detectives who wanted to tie up how different officials on duty Wednesday night responded to the tragedy.

Several samples had been collected from the scene where the fire is believed to have broken out, ostensibly to determine whether any accelerant or flammable material was present.

Even as the agents were buried tying the loose ends of the investigations, President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the airport for a second time in three days promising tough punishment for anyone implicated.

The President referred to the inferno as a simple fire gone bad, pointing to gross negligence in the part of either airport officials who delayed in raising the alarm or the firemen who should always be on standby.

Mr Kenyatta announced that terrorism had been ruled out, echoing sentiments made earlier by Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale who had visited the probe team around noon Friday.

Charged in court

“They (investigators) have the answers now on what caused the fire, and it is very serious,” said Mr Khalwale at the JKIA. He, however, was not specific on details he had gathered from the probe team.

By the end of the day Friday, detectives from the CID and senior officials from the Government chemist were finalising on their findings, indicating that the answers may be handed over to their bosses today to allow for the next course of action.

Among the likely outcomes would be that several officials could be charged in court for abetting the fire whose impact has been tens of suspended flights and thousands of angry travellers.

Police at the airport reported that all criminal records, office equipment including electronics that were in their offices on the second floor of the arrivals’ terminal were completely damaged.

Narcotics-related cases would turn out to be among the biggest headaches for the police unit attached at the airport, according to a senior officer, but was quick to point out that the cases before court would not be affected.

“Nothing was salvaged from our offices which are the headquarters of all airport police stations across the country,” said the officer who added that their operations were likely to start from a tent as new office premises is sought.

“The exhibits for narcotics cases are in safes,” he said. “We are hoping they were not affected.”

The passenger clearing systems were also damaged completely but officials from the department said that a fallback system had been brought in from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa.

-The Standard

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