Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for a purported bomb attack on a passenger plane in Somalia earlier this month, saying it was targeted at Western officials and Turkish NATO forces.
The blast punched a one-metre-sized hole in the side of the Airbus A321 about 15 minutes after it had taken off from Mogadishu heading for Djibouti on February 2.
A senior source within the group told Al Jazeera that their initial target was a Turkish Airlines jet, but only attacked Daallo Airlines after Turkey’s national carrier cancelled its flight to the Somali capital.
In a statement obtained by Al Jazeera, the armed group said on Saturday the attack on the Daallo Airlines flight was part of an operation targeting dozens of Western intelligence officials and Turkish NATO forces.
It added that while the operation did not bring down the plane, “it struck terror in the hearts of the crusaders, demonstrating to the disbelievers that despite all their security measures and the strenuous efforts they make to conceal their presence, the Mujahideen can and will get to them”.
Al-Shabab said the operation was “retribution for the crimes committed by the coalition of Western crusaders and their intelligence agencies against the Muslims of Somalia”.
Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s government and establish a state based on its interpretation of Islamic law.
Last week, Somali Transport and Aviation Minister Ali Ahmed Jama said the mid-air explosion, which forced the plane to make an emergency landing, had been caused by a bomb.
The suspected bomber identified as Abdulahi Abdisalam was killed, probably after being propelled out of the aircraft in the explosion, investigators said.
The explosion did not damage the plane’s navigation system, and this is what enabled the pilot to make the emergency landing.
Last Sunday, the head of Daallo Airlines told Al Jazeera that the suspected bomber on the jet was meant to board a Turkish Airlines flight.
Mohamed Ibrahim Yassin Olad said the flight’s 74 passengers were originally checked in with Turkish Airlines, which flies to Somalia three times a week.
“They were not our passengers. Turkish Airlines cancelled its flight from Mogadishu that morning because their incoming flight from Djibouti could not come to Mogadishu because of what they said was strong wind,” Olad said.
“They requested we carry the passengers on their behalf to Djibouti where they would continue their journey on a Turkish Airlines flight,” he added.
The February 2 incident is the third airplane attack to be claimed by al-Shabab.
In December 2014, the group claimed to have shot down a Kenyan army jet over southern Somalia.
In 2007, al-Shabab said it had shot down a civilian aircraft carrying supplies and eastern European engineers for the African Union Mission over Mogadishu’s airport.
Also in the same year, the rebel group claimed to have shot down an Ethiopian military aircraft in southern Somalia amid fighting with troops from the neighbouring country.
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