/ 31 December 2009

Somali arrested with chemicals at airport in November

Security officers arrested a young Somali man attempting to board a Dubai-bound plane in November in the capital Mogadishu with a suspicious white powder, liquid and syringes, Somali officials said on Wednesday.

Somali officials said they initially thought the chemicals were for use in the so-called ”black dollar” scam in which criminals convince people they can turn black bills into US dollars using chemicals.

But the botched attempt to blow up a US-bound plane on Dec. 25 by a Nigerian who says he was trained by al-Qaeda aroused suspicions the Somali may have had similar aims.

”Before, we thought these were for washing the money we had seized. But the incident at Detroit shows the similarity of the chemicals,” Ahmed Ali Aftooje, chief of police at Mogadishu airport, told Reuters.

”He was carrying empty syringes, liquid and powder separately in the same bag,” he said.

Security Minister Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, Barigye Ba-hoku, spokesperson for the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia, and a senior officer in the National Security Service all told Reuters a man carrying suspicious chemicals was detained at the airport.

Ali told Reuters they had established the chemicals were explosive, and not for the money scam as initially thought.

The suspect is believed to be in custody in Somalia.

An initial FBI analysis found the device used by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab aboard the US jet on December 25 contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, one of the explosives carried by ”shoe bomber” Richard Reid in 2001.

The device consisted of a 15cm packet of powder and a syringe containing a liquid, according to media reports.

Aftooje said the Somali man refused to board the aircraft when he was asked to leave the suspicious material behind and two police officers at the screening gate then identified him as a member of the hardline insurgent group al-Shabaab.

”He was so scared when the police recognised that he is a member of the terrorist group al-Shabaab. First, he said he was carrying the chemicals to treat his cattle, and again claimed he wanted to spray his farm,” Aftooje told Reuters.

Somalia has lacked effective central government since 1991 and Western security agencies say the country has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda-linked militants to train and plot attacks in the region and beyond.

Washington says al-Shabaab is al-Qaeda’s proxy in the Horn of Africa nation and the hardline insurgents control swathes of southern and central Somalia, including parts of the Mogadishu.

The commercial aircraft the Somali man attempted to board on November 13 was bound for Dubai via stops in the breakaway Somali enclave of Somaliland and Djibouti, airport officials said.

Aftooje said he doubted the man was planning to attack that flight as most of the passengers were Muslim pilgrims and there were no important officials aboard when it left Somalia.

The Nigerian suspect in the failed December 25 attack first boarded a flight from Nigeria and switched to a Detroit-bound aircraft in Amsterdam. – Reuters