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Zimbabwe declares 'heightened alert'

by Staff reporter
01 Mar 2024 at 19:11hrs | Views
President Emmerson Mnangagwa aborted landing at Victoria Falls International Airport on Friday and his private jet returned to Harare after authorities were warned of a "credible bomb or firearm threat."

The warning was emailed to Fastjet at 8.10AM on Friday, about two hours before Mnangagwa was due to land.

The airport was shut down moments after an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737 landed from Bulawayo just after 9AM, sparking panic as passengers were kept on the aircraft while state security agencies cleared people from the airport terminal and combed the building and runway searching for a bomb.

Kenya Airways flight KQ792, due to land at 9.40AM, circled over Victoria Falls for several minutes before it diverted to Livingstone Airport.

Mnangagwa was halfway into his flight to the resort town from Harare when the presidential jet, a Dassault Falcon X7 bought for US$52 million, was ordered to turnaround and return to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

George Charamba, the presidency spokesman, said grounding the president's plane was a precautionary measure.

"As a precaution, the country's security systems are now on heightened alert following the email whose source and credibility is also being investigated," Charamba said.

"While our country is peaceful, and all our ports of entry are well secured, such alerts on possible terrorist attacks are taken and treated very seriously as nothing should be left to chance," Charamba said in a statement.

Zimbabweans should "remain calm while investigations are underway, the results of which will be made public… once investigations are concluded."

Mnangagwa had been due to speak at the closing ceremony of a conference on renewable energy.

In his absence, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who travelled ahead of him, delivered his speech.

Chiwenga had earlier travelled to the airport to welcome Mnangagwa, but he was not allowed to leave his vehicle after the emergency was declared.

With Mnangagwa's flight returning to Harare, Chiwenga's convoy drove off and returned him to his hotel with sirens blaring.

The warning, sent from email by a Jon Doe, was sent with the subject: ‘Threat BUQ VFA!!!!!!' BUQ is the airport code for Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo, while VFA stands for Victoria Falls Airport.

"Credible bomb/firearms threat boarding airzim BUQ to VFA 1 march 24 and other flights that day," the email began.

"Was part of the operation but could not go through with it myself. Targets are flights and the conference in VFA. They know ainhave absconded so flight dates may change but original plan was tomorrow. Have armed militia already in VFA staying at N1 and Shearwater Explorers Village, may have moved already. Some armed colleagues and bombs already in Vic Falls. Threat is imminent, alert authorities immediately."

The sweep of the Air Zimbabwe plane and the airport did not turn up any bomb, ZimLive understands.

Zimbabwe hosts a SADC summit in August to be attended by regional leaders, and former foreign minister Walter Mzembi criticised the authorities' handling of the bomb threat.

He wrote on X: "This alleged threat could have been handled quietly without ringing these unnecessary alarm bells. Everyday in the world presidents receive hoax messages but there are security filters to prevent public despondency and debranding of their airports as terrorist targets which every airport is, the difference being official confirmation, hence the intensive and rigorous security screening passengers are subjected to daily at all international airports.

"Unless one is afraid and doesn't trust his own intelligence agencies, then this sort of alarm bell ringing is an unnecessary travel advisory against self and will certainly be picked by other governments and tourists. In short we are saying Zimbabwe is not safe, worst of all a travel warning self-issued from Victoria Falls, one of the world's natural wonders.

"So what message are we sending to the delegates attending this conference, if a president can run away from his own airport?"

Source - zimlive