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Video Shows Airport Workers Allegedly Handing Bomb to Suspected Somali Plane Bomber

Footage released by the government shows two employees handing over a laptop filled with explosives that officials say caused the blast aboard a Djibouti-bound plane last week.

by VICE News and Reuters
Feb 8 2016, 4:35pm

Photo by AP

Airport employees in Somalia reportedly handed a laptop filled with explosives to the suspected suicide bomber who blew a hole in the side of an airplane departing Mogadishu last week, according to authorities who released video footage allegedly showing the exchange.

In the CCTV footage, two workers, one wearing an orange vest, can be seen walking through the airport terminal and briefly stopping as they appear to hand something over to another man. The video was released by the Somali National Intelligence Agency (NISA). A government spokesman said that the object being handed over was the laptop used to carry out the attack.

The blast occurred aboard Daallo Airlines Flight D3159 shortly after takeoff en route to Djibouti on Tuesday. The pilot was able to land back on the tarmac in Mogadishu safely, and 74 passengers and crew members were evacuated from the aircraft. 

The alleged bomber was sucked out of the plane through the one-meter wide hole when the blast ripped open the pressurized cabin in mid-air, officials said. The body was found outside of Mogadishu. At least two people were hospitalized after sustaining injuries from the blast.

Over the weekend, Somali Transport Minister Ali Ahmed Jamac acknowledged that the incident was not a technical issue.

"The intent was to harm the passengers on the plane," Jamac said. "This was not a technical fault. It was a deliberate terror act."

Somali officials said an investigation had been launched and more than 20 people arrested so far, including airport workers.

"Some of the people that we have arrested are cooperating," government spokesman Abdisalam Aato told Reuters. He said security at the airport has been stepped up and that the government was seeking new technologies to improve screenings.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but a US government source last week speculated that the Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which has aligned itself with al Qaeda, was behind the blast.

Most of the passengers on the flight, including the suspected suicide bomber, were meant to be on a Turkish Airlines flight, Daallo's chief executive Mohamed Yassin said on Monday. The customers had been placed on the Daallo flight to Djibouti after the Turkish carrier canceled its flight, citing bad weather. Daallo is a Somali-owned airline based in Dubai.

Related: Two Reported Injured After Explosion on Airliner in Somalia

"That particular passenger (who was behind the blast) boarded the aircraft on a Turkish Airlines boarding pass and was on the list for the Turkish Airlines manifest," Yassin told Reuters from Dubai, adding that his airline had taken on 70 passengers from the canceled flight.

Turkish Airlines began operating the first international flights out of Somalia in 2012, becoming the first commercial airline to do so since the onset of Somalia's civil war in 1991.

Mogadishu's heavily guarded airport, which is often compared to the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, has several safety perimeter fences and checkpoints. It houses a large United Nations compound along with several other Western embassies.

Al Shabaab has previously targeted foreign vehicles and convoys traveling along the road between Mogadishu and the international airport, which is also near the United Nations compound. The Islamist extremist group has waged an insurgency in the East African nation since 2006 with the aim of toppling the Somali government. Al Shabaab militants carried out a car bombing at a Turkish embassy office in 2013.

The Somali Islamist militant group has been active so far in 2016. In January, five gunmen from the group attacked a popular beachfront restaurant, killing 17 people. The fighters also set off two car bombs nearby.

The beach violence came just days after al Shabaab carried out an assault on a Kenyan military base, reportedly killing at least 100 soldiers and kidnapping others. The Kenyan soldiers make up a large contingent of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM. In both instances, the group claimed responsibility for the violence.

According to Yassin, Somali officials have told Daallo they were improving security at the airport. The executive said the company will continue flying in and out of Somalia.

"We have been there for 25 years," he said. "Our efforts to keep Somalia linked to the rest of the world will continue."