MOGADISHU/WASHINGTON • Investigators suspect the Al-Shabab militant group was behind a likely bomb blast that forced an Airbus A-321 into an emergency landing on Tuesday in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, United States government sources said.
One source said on Wednesday that investigators believe the Islamic militant group Al-Shabab, East Africa's Al-Qaeda branch, perpetrated the attack.
One man on the Somali-owned Daallo Airlines plane was killed, officials said.
The local authorities north of Mogadishu said the 55-year-old man, believed to have been sucked out through the 1m-wide hole in the fuselage made by the blast, was found in their area.
It was unclear, however, whether he was killed by the blast or the plunge to the ground.
The explosion rocked the flight by Daallo Airlines - the national carrier of Djibouti - 15 minutes after it took off from Mogadishu, blasting a hole above the plane's right wing.
Daallo Airlines said on its website: "All passengers, except one, disembarked safely." It added that two passengers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
It had said previously that 74 passengers were on board the plane headed for Djibouti.
Two US government sources said on Wednesday that initial forensic testing had detected possible traces of the explosive TNT on the plane. The preliminary assessment heightened fears that Al-Shabab had figured out a way to plant a bomb in a plane.
US officials were earlier concerned that the explosion might have been caused by a surface-to- air missile. After the stricken plane circled back to Mogadishu, US military advisers who are working in Somalia with African Union peacekeepers rushed to investigate, US officials said.
They quickly determined from the way the metal was punched out that the explosion had been caused by something inside the aircraft.
Al-Shabab, which has killed thousands of civilians over the years in its quest to turn Somalia into a puritanical Islamic state, may now be practising more sophisticated killing tactics, breaching the airport's security and placing a timed explosive device in the aircraft.
"The Shabab have upped their game," said a former US military official who works in Somalia.
Al-Shabab seems to be making a comeback after years of defeats at the hands of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Anti-terrorism experts say if a bomb is confirmed as the cause of the plane explosion, it may also have been planted by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) new branches in Somalia.
In recent months, dozens of fighters have defected from Al-Shabab to ISIS, which has a history of bringing down aircraft.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES