MOGADISHU, Somalia – U.S. officials are investigating a Somali man’s alleged attempt to board a flight bound for Djibouti and Dubai last month carrying chemicals, liquid and a syringe in a case bearing chilling echoes of the plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
Terrorism analysts said the arrest in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, could prove highly valuable for the Detroit investigation if the incidents turn out to be linked.
The Somali was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops Nov. 13 before boarding the Daallo Airlines plane bound for the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then Djibouti and Dubai.
“We don’t know whether he’s linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed,” said a Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi Hassan Barise.
A Nairobi-based diplomat said the incident has similarities to the attempted attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in that the Somali was said to have a syringe, liquid and powdered chemicals – tools similar to those used by the Nigerian suspect on the Detroit-bound plane.
Barigye Bahoku, the spokesman for the African Union military force in Mogadishu, said the materials could have caused an explosion that would have resulted in cabin decompression, though he didn’t think it would have brought the plane down.
For the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly hid explosive PETN in a condom or condom-like bag just below his torso. In the Somali case, the powdered material smelled strongly of ammonia, and samples were sent to London for testing, Bahoku said.
The case drew little attention before the Christmas incident, but on Wednesday U.S. officials began to investigate any possible links to the Detroit attack. None would speak on the record.