The Wall Street Journal
By Heidi Vogt
Updated Feb. 3, 2016 7:19 p.m. ET
NAIROBI, Kenya—An explosion that blew a hole in the side of a commercial flight leaving Mogadishu is stoking suspicions that terrorists may have carried out an attack on the jet.
Somali authorities investigating the cause of Tuesday’s blast said they had found no evidence of an explosive, but the plane’s pilot told a Belgrade magazine he believed there was a bomb.
No group has claimed responsibility for the explosion, which forced an Airbus A321 with 74 passengers aboard to make an emergency landing in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that they believe a bomb exploded aboard the Daallo Airlines flight, although the view hasn’t been corroborated by evidence. A senior defense official said an assessment of the imagery has led the Defense Department to view a bomb as a likelihood. The official said the nature of the tear in the metal fuselage, the position of the hole and the general security environment all suggest a bomb.
Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has regularly carried out armed strikes against targets in the Horn of Africa nation, but getting a bomb aboard a commercial airliner would represent a new approach for the group.
It has previously staged attacks against civilian targets in locations such as restaurants, hotels and even a shopping mall in Kenya.
Somali authorities said two people were injured in the blast. Local media reported that the body of a man who apparently fell from the Djibouti-bound airplane was found near the town of Balad, about 18 miles from Mogadishu, close to where the aircraft turned around to return to the airport.
A Somali aviation official told The Wall Street Journal that there was no evidence to suggest any sort of bomb or explosive device.
“No clue has been found about an explosive,” said Ali Gaal, the director general of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. “It was all depressurization. It was only that.” He said it appeared there was a problem with the air-pressure system that led to an imbalance and blew the hole in the plane as it climbed.
Mr. Gaal said the investigation was to figure out what might have caused the depressurization and whether the pilot was aware of the problem before he took off.
The flight “experienced an incident” shortly after taking off from Mogadishu on Tuesday, the airline said. “The aircraft landed safely and all of our passengers were evacuated safely. A thorough investigation is being conducted by the Somalia Civil Aviation Authority.”
The pilot of the airliner, Vladimir Vodopivec, a Serb, told the Belgrade magazine Blic he thought the explosion was a bomb. He said the blast didn’t damage the plane’s control system.
“We lost cabin pressure. Thank God everything ended well,” said Mr. Vodopivec, who was employed by JAT Airways and Montenegro Airlines before moving to Africa to work for Daallo.
In video footage shot as the plane descended into Mogadishu for a landing, wind can be heard ripping through the fuselage as passengers move quickly toward the rear of the cabin. The video, shot by Awale Kullane, shows some passengers caked in dust and debris, and others breathing through oxygen masks.
The Mogadishu-Djibouti flight was operated by Hermes Airlines, a Greek charter airline company, said Daallo, which flies routes between Djibouti and the Middle East and Africa. A Daallo employee reached by phone in Dubai declined further comment.
Airbus said from its headquarters in Toulouse, France, that it hadn’t yet been asked to provide any on-site expertise, though it was ready to support authorities.
The French air-accident office, the BEA, which typically gets involved in incidents involving Airbus planes, said it hadn’t been officially notified of the occurrence.
The European Union, citing safety concerns, has barred all Djibouti carriers, including Daallo Airlines, from operating at its airports.
An aviation-security expert said that while a bomb was a possibility, it wasn’t the only possible cause of the hole in the plane’s fuselage.
“It could be that there was damage to the window, and that caused it to blow out. It could be a device, but not a particularly large one. It would be really too early to call,” said Matthew Finn, managing director at London-based Augmentiq Ltd., an aviation-security company.
The finding that a bomb was detonated aboard the Airbus would indicate major shortcomings in security at the heavily guarded Mogadishu airport, which is located inside a fortified base that houses African Union troops and the United Nations mission to Somalia.
The commercial side of the airport has a separate entrance, however, and the check-in area is often thronged with hundreds of people.
and Robert Wall in London
contributed to this article.
Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com