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U.S. investigates arrest at Somali airport

MOGADISHU, Somalia — U.S. officials are investigating a Somali man's alleged attempt to board a flight last month carrying chemicals, liquid and a syringe in a case bearing chilling echoes of the plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

The Somali was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops Nov. 13 before boarding a Daallo Airlines plane bound for the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then Djibouti and Dubai.

"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Somali police spokesman Abdulahi Hassan Barise.

Barigye Bahoku, spokesman for the African Union military force in Mogadishu, said the materials could have caused an explosion that would have resulted in cabin decompression, though he didn't think it would have brought the plane down.

For the Amsterdam-to-Detroit Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly hid explosive chemicals in a condom or condom-like bag just below his torso. In the Somali case, the powdered material smelled strongly of ammonia, and samples were sent to London for testing, Bahoku said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. investigators are working with Somali authorities and linking the case to the Christmas attack "would be speculative at this point."

A Somali security official involved in the Mogadishu arrest said the suspect had a 2.2-pound package of chemical powder and a container of liquid chemicals. He said the suspect was the last passenger in line to board. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

The man's name was not released, but the security official gave it as Abdi Hassan Abdi and said he was middle-aged. Once the chemicals and syringe were detected, the suspect tried to bribe the team that detained him, the security official said.

A spokeswoman for Daallo Airlines said company officials were unaware of the incident and would have to seek more information before commenting. Daallo Airlines is based in Dubai and has offices in Djibouti and France.

Yemen raids

al-Qaida hideout

Yemeni forces raided an al-Qaida hideout and set off a gunbattle Wednesday as the government vowed to eliminate Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's group that said it was behind the Christmas bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight. The fighting took place in an al-Qaida stronghold in Hudaydah province, killing 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians.

TSA subpoenas bloggers: Transportation Security Administration special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, who wrote about a directive to increase security after the attempted bombing aboard a plane on Christmas Day, demanding that they reveal who leaked the information to them. Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents at his Connecticut home and was forced to hand over his laptop. Elliott posted on his blog Tuesday that he told TSA agents at his house that he would call his lawyer and get back to them.

Nigeria to install scanners: Civil Aviation Authority chief Harold Demuren said Wednesday that Nigeria will purchase full body scanners for use at its airport and expects to install the machines early next year.

Times wires

U.S. investigates arrest at Somali airport 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:23pm]

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