'Wheelchair-bound suicide bomber' responsible for attack on plane where 'burning man was sucked out' of hole
Suspect who blew up plane in mid-flight used disabled status to avoid rigorous security checks, investigators suspect
Published 05/02/2016 | 08:10
A bomb attack that ripped a hole in an airliner as it flew over Somalia was smuggled on board by a wheelchair-bound passenger who was not properly screened, officials suspect.
Investigators probing Wednesday's blast on the flight from Mogadishu believe it was the work of a suicide bomber who posed as a disabled passenger to dodge rigorous security checks.
The bomb, which went off 20 minutes into the plane's flight to Djibouti, tore a door-sized gap in the plane's fuselage, through which one passenger is believed to have been sucked out of the plane.
It is not yet confirmed that that passenger - who eyewitnesses say was engulfed in flames - was the suspected bomber. However, police in the town of Balad, 20 miles outside of Mogadishu, later recovered a body that local residents said appeared to have fallen from the plane.
The revelation comes amid mounting evidence that the blast was a terror attack, with a Western diplomat saying that investigators had swabbed the area of the explosion and found the residue of explosives.
“An individual got onto the plane in a wheelchair and is suspected of being the suicide bomber,” the diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.
The wheelchair-bound passenger is believed to have been transferred into a regular seat after being brought onto the plane. A passenger sitting next to him has been arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bomb, but suspicion is likely to focus on Somalia's al-Shabaab militant group, factions of which have declared allegiance to the Islamic State, the group responsible for downing a Russian airliner in Egypt last year.
However, Zakaria Yusuf, a Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, said that al-Shabaab would have been quick to claim responsibility for the bomb if it had been their doing.
Despite the blast, the pilot of the plane was able to perform an emergency landing, saving the lives of the 74 people on board.
The prospect that a wheelchair-bound passenger was able to penetrate the screening process at Mogadishu airport has prompted an immediate review of security at the facility, which is also used by Western diplomats and aid workers. Disabled passengers are a common sight on flights in war-torn Somalia, and are sometimes treated as being above suspicion.
Mohammed Ibrahim Yassin, the chief executive of the airline that was targeted in the bomb, Daallo Airlines, confirmed last night that investigators had found "residues" of explosives, but said they were not yet "100 per cent that it's a bomb".
He described security at Mogadishu airport as "good" and multilayered, and "much better than it used to be."