Jason Burke, The Guardian, February 03, 2016
An explosion that forced an Airbus A321 to return to the Somali capital for an emergency landing this week was probably caused by a bomb, US government sources have said.
One man was killed in the blast on Tuesday on the Daallo Airlines plane. Officials north of Mogadishu said the body of a man believed to have been sucked through a hole in the fuselage made by the blast had been found in the area.
The US sources told the Reuters news agency that hard forensic evidence was lacking and no group was known to have claimed responsibility for the blast. Islamist militant groups have been waging an insurgency and terrorist campaign in Somalia and the region for more than a decade.
Daallo Airlines said on its website that the “incident” that caused a hole in the fuselage happened 15 minutes into the flight. “Pilots managed to land the aircraft back [at] Mogadishu airport safely and without any further incident. All passengers except one disembarked safely,” it said, adding that an investigation had been launched into “the cause of one missing passenger”.
Two passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries, it added.
Officials said the body of a 55-year-old passenger was found in the Balcad area about 19 miles (30km) north of Mogadishu.
A police officer at Mogadishu airport said the body was being brought to the capital. “He dropped when the explosion occurred in the plane,” the officer said.
Daallo Airlines, the national carrier of the tiny Horn of Africa country of Djibouti, previously said the plane had 74 passengers on board.
In a telephone interview, the Serbian pilot of the plane said he and others had been told that the explosion that created a hole in the passenger cabin was caused by a bomb. “It was my first bomb; I hope it will be the last,” Vladimir Vodopivec, 64, said.
He said the blast occurred when the plane was at approximately 11,000ft. “It would have been much worse if we were higher,” he added.
Experts have praised the actions of the crew in landing the plane with so few casualties.
Mobile phone video taken aboard the plane shows passengers, some wearing oxygen masks, in seats towards the back of the airliner in flight, and the empty front area with a hole in the side of the cabin. There is a loud sound of rushing air. The video was taken by Awale Kullane, Somalia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations.
Kullane said on Facebook that he “heard a loud noise and couldn’t see anything but smoke for a few seconds”. When visibility returned they realised “quite a chunk” of the plane was missing, he wrote.
In the clip, the passengers bunched in the back appear calm. A child wearing an oxygen mask attached to the overhead compartment sits quietly, a blanket covering their legs.
“When we heard a loud bang, the co-pilot went back to the cabin to inspect the damage and I took over the commands as the procedure demands,” Vodopivec told the Associated Press. He said the engines and hydraulics were functioning normally, so he had no problem flying the aircraft back to Mogadishu.
“Smoke came into the cockpit, but it was mostly concentrated in the back of the aircraft,” he said. “The stewardesses did a great job calming down the passengers and following the emergency procedure.”
Daallo flies to several destinations in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, according to its website.
Mohamed Hussein, an agent for Daallo, told Reuters on Tuesday that a “fire had erupted” on the flight. Images showed a hole in the fuselage over one wing. A source familiar with the investigation said flammable objects were not usually put in that place in an aircraft.
Some reports suggested an oxygen bottle might have been involved, but safety experts say such bottles usually catch fire rather than explode. Photographs did not show significant damage to overhead panels where such bottles are usually kept.
There was no immediate comment from al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist militant group that has waged an insurgency against the western-backed government.
Though al-Shabaab mostly withdrew from Mogadishu in 2011, the group still carries out attacks in the city and against African Union peacekeepers across the country.
Last month al-Shabaab attacked a beachfront restaurant in Mogadishu and launched an assault on a base near the Kenyan border, where it claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers belonging to the AU’s Amisom force. Officials in Kenya have refused to give details of casualties.
There have been tensions within al-Shabaab over whether it should remain affiliated to al-Qaida or switch allegiance to Islamic State. This may have fuelled a recent increase in violent attacks attributed to the group, some observers say.
An attempt to bring down an aeroplane would mark a significant escalation in the group’s tactics.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Jason Burke from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.