On Saturday, the US mission in the Sudan issued a warning that regional extremists were thought to plan an attack on an Air Uganda flight between Juba, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of the southern Sudan and Entebbe, which prompted a red alert by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority’s aviation security team.
A source within Air Uganda would only confirm that intense consultations were going on with relevant governmental departments, but it is understood that the airline may boost their direct security measures in the light of otherwise insufficient security at the airport in Juba, as often also witnessed by this correspondent and implement their own additional screening of checked and carry-on luggage, as well as resort to pat-down checks for passengers before boarding.
Relations between the US and the Sudan are at best described as uneasy, and security measures are at the very highest level since the fatal attack just two years ago on an embassy official in Khartoum for which several men were since then sentenced to death by Sudan’s Sharia courts. While the Sudan remains on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the Obama administration seems to have a more friendly disposition towards the government of southern Sudan, and their advisories, while often seen as overstated and overcautious, are in this case definitely worth taking very seriously, in particular in the light of the fundamental differences in the levels of aviation security between Entebbe and Juba airports.
No incidents were reported from any of the Air Uganda flights between Juba and Entebbe in recent days, although checked baggage and hand-luggage checks were reportedly also stepped up, similar to the measures taken for flights to the US.
Air Uganda’s Official Press Statement:
Air Uganda received today, January 9, 2010, from external sources, an intended threat on Air Uganda’s flight to Juba. In the interest of our passengers and crew, we immediately made a decision to return the flight to Entebbe International Airport. The aircraft returned without incident. The passengers, crew, baggage, and aircraft were processed by Entebbe Airport Aviation and government security ggencies in accordance with appropriate standard security procedures. After all checks had been made by the Uganda security agencies, Air Uganda’s operations to Juba were considered safe to continue. Normal operations on the Juba route will continue as per the airline schedule effective January 10, 2010.
“Air Uganda is aware of the security alert that was released by the US Embassies in Kampala and Khartoum and has been aware of similar threats on the airline and Uganda in the recent past. Accordingly, the airline had already put in place additional security and safety measures in conjunction with all Civil Aviation Authorities and the governments of Uganda and southern Sudan. Air Uganda is committed to the safety of its passengers and crew and continually accesses security matters with the security agencies of the countries we operate to.”