February 10, 2010

Report: Ethiopian Airlines Was Blown Up By al Qaeda

Last night we were sent an email to a story which reported that witnesses saw an explosion on the Ethiopian airline which crashed after taking off from Beirut. Even though at the time the plane went down my thoughts immediately turned to al Qaeda's Somali affiliate the al Shabaab, there was little discussion of this being an al Qaeda operation.

This was, after all, an Ethiopian airliner. Flying out of the Middle East. Two hallmarks of a plausible case for human or mechanical error.

But today DEBKA reports that the plane was in fact taken down by an al Qaeda operation. And, again, this is an Ethiopian airliner. Flying out of the Middle East. Also two hallmarks of a plausible case that this was an act of terror.

Why Ethiopia and why this airline? Well, the al Qaeda affiliated al Shabaab see Ethiopia as the number one regional threat to their cause. It was Ethiopia that invaded Somalia in order to oust the former Islamist government, and with the Ethiopian invasion came al Shabaab's rise to prominence.

Even if al Shabaab lacked the resources to carry out such an attack, clearly their sister organization of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has such a capacity. The group has expressed solidarity with al Shabaab over and over again and has been instrumental in ferrying Arab fighters across the Red Sea from Yemen to Somalia.

See, for instance, this statement from Anwar al-Awlaki in support and solildarity with al Shabaab. And it was al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that was behind the Christmas Day underwear bombing attempt. With al-Awlaki's blessings if not at his behest.

Al Qaeda has the motive and the means to have orchestrated this.

The angle DEBKA plays is that al Qaeda operatives were tipped off that the French ambassador's wife and top Hizbollah leaders would be on the flight. Only the ambassador's wife was on the plane.

That's plausible, but I think it's a stretch that they have that level of sophistication. Blowing up an Ethiopian plane is reason enough that we don't have to look any deeper for motivation.

If the failed underwear bombing is any indication of how these operations are planned, the suicide bomber was simply instructed to get on a plane -- any plane -- headed for the US.

Again, this is DEBKA which has a track record of sensationalism and occasionally being dead wrong. We'll have to file this under plausible but needs further investigation

DEBKA:

Evidence has reached debkafile's counter-terror sources that the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 which crashed after takeoff from Beirut on January 25, killing all 92 aboard, was blown up in mid-air.

This was an al-Qaeda operation timed for one month to the day after its failed attempt to destroy an American Northwest airliner bound for Detroit.

It is becoming clear that either a bomb was planted on the Ethiopian flight with a timer or a passenger acted as suicide bomber....

Eye-witnesses at the time heard a loud explosion and saw the plane enveloped in a ball of fire as it gained altitude after takeoff from Beirut international airport.

Keep an eye on this one.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention another angle I think is worth exploring. The Lebanese and French government both denied that this had anything to do with terrorism before the investigation even started. Which isn't evidence either way, but does it bug the rest of you as much as it bugs me when governments really don't know what happened that they do know that it wasn't terror?

Also, to get to Reliapundit's and others point in the comments: yes, I had seen some eyewitness reports of an explosion, but to be honest eyewitness reports are notoriously unreliable -- especially in, um, this area of the world. I only ran with the story after making inquiries as to whether or not there was some other evidence besides the initial reports.

Another UPDATE: IOL:

"Ethiopian Airlines does not rule out all possible causes including the possibility of sabotage until the final outcome of the investigation is known," the company said in a statement.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:56 AM | Comments |