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Feb 13, 2016 | 14:00 GMT

3 mins read

More Detail, Less Clarity in Somali Flight Bombing

More Detail, Less Clarity in Somali Flight Bombing
(MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)

The case of Daallo Flight 3159 remains something of a mystery. On Feb. 2, an explosion onboard the aircraft resulted in the death of a single passenger and blew a hole in the side of the fuselage. New reports on the incident, which ended with a safe landing back in Mogadishu soon after takeoff, raise the question of whether Flight 3159 was the intended target of the attack.

Since our last update, it has become clear that the bomber smuggled the device onto the aircraft inside a laptop computer. Fragments of the computer that had been in intimate contact with high explosives were allegedly found onboard. Field tests on the aircraft returned positive for TNT, a common explosive in Somalia. TNT can be obtained either in the form of demolition blocks or from the explosive filler used in landmines, artillery shells and rocket warheads, all of which are abundant throughout the country.

The Somali government recently released a video showing two airport employees handing the laptop to the bomber, who, contrary to early reports, was not in a wheelchair. The exchange took place in plain view of a CCTV camera.

CNN and other media sources reported that the bomb inside the laptop was sophisticated, but it could have been a rather simple device. After all, security screening at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu is far from state-of-the-art. And, if airport security personnel were involved in the plot to supply the laptop bomb to the bomber, inside help reduces the requirement for a sophisticated device.

Emerging reports suggest that the bomber, Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, was granted a Turkish visa thanks to a request from the Somali embassy in Ankara. The embassy noted Borle was an advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotions. In itself that is no great surprise. Somalis have a hard time getting visas and often pay bribes to leave the country, so the referral letter does not necessarily imply bomber had connections inside the Somali government.

There is good reason to believe the bomber was not specifically targeting Flight 3159. Borle's original ticket had been for a Turkish Airlines flight that had been canceled the week before. Passengers from that flight, along with another Turkish Airlines flight, were routed onto the Feb. 2 Daallo aircraft.

Initial reports that the two airport employees who handed the laptop to the bomber had been arrested proved to be false, though they were doubtlessly questioned by authorities. On Feb. 11, one of the two men was reportedly killed when a bomb detonated in a vehicle belonging to the other man. The other narrowly escaped, having just stepped out of the vehicle. The incident suggests that someone is trying to silence the two men.

No terrorist group has claimed credit for the attack, which is uncommon in Somalia and unusual for jihadists elsewhere. This silence, along with the attempt to kill the two airport employees, raises questions about the attacker's motive. The operation could simply have been an attempt by one or two individuals to kill someone on the aircraft — if so, the incident could be similar to Avianca Flight 203 in 1989, which was bombed by Pablo Escobar's hit men to kill Colombian presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria Trujillo. The passenger manifest may reveal a potential target for assassination on board the flight. Or perhaps that target was Borle himself, who was at first believed to be the bomber, and the device merely exploded when he turned his laptop on. Based on these emerging details, it is possible that the actual target of the attack was not an aircraft at all. We will continue to monitor this case in search of more answers.

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