Explosive residue found in Somalia incident

A hole is photographed in a plane operated by Daallo Airlines as it sits on the runway after an emergency landing at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia Tuesday Feb. 2, 2016. Officials at Somalia's civil aviation authority said Wednesday Feb. 3, 2016 that they had found no evidence so far of a criminal act in an explosion in an airliner which took off from Mogadishu's airport and returned for an emergency landing. (Awale Kullane,via AP)

A hole is photographed in a plane operated by Daallo Airlines as it sits on the runway after an emergency landing at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia Tuesday Feb. 2, 2016. Officials at Somalia's civil aviation authority said Wednesday Feb. 3, 2016 that they had found no evidence so far of a criminal act in an explosion in an airliner which took off from Mogadishu's airport and returned for an emergency landing. (Awale Kullane,via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The head of the airline whose jetliner was damaged in an explosion shortly after takeoff from Somalia said Thursday that investigators have found what appears to be residue from explosives, though he cautioned that the findings were inconclusive.

Still, the preliminary discovery lends weight to the possibility that a bomb was to blame for the blast that tore through the Airbus 321 shortly after takeoff from the Somali capital Mogadishu.

“There’s a residue, they’re saying, of explosives. … There’s a trace,” Daallo Airlines CEO Mohammed Ibrahim Yassin said during an interview with The Associated Press at the carrier’s corporate office in Dubai. “But that cannot really make 100 percent that it’s a bomb,” he added, saying that he expects initial findings to be released in a matter of days.

The plane’s pilot, Capt. Vlatko Vodopivec, has said previously that he and others were told the explosion was caused by a bomb.

Yassin too acknowledged that a bomb could have been to blame, saying “we cannot exclude anything right now.” He declined to speculate who might be responsible.

Somalia’s government confirmed Thursday that a passenger who had been missing since the explosion had died. It identified him as Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, but gave no details about how he died.

In a statement issued after a Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arteh said the government would tighten the airport’s security to prevent security threats.

Local police have previously said residents of Balad, a town 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) north of Mogadishu, found the body of a man who might have been blown out of the Airbus 321 in the blast.

Somalia’s transport minister, Ali Jama Jangali, said preliminary information from an ongoing investigation had produced what he called a “suspicious” finding, although he added that it required further investigation in collaboration with international experts.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. Somalia faces an insurgency from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which has carried out deadly attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries.

The Airbus A321 was carrying 74 passengers when the explosion struck. All but four of the passengers originally had tickets with Turkish Airways and were rebooked on the Daallo flight after cancelled flights left them stranded in the Somali capital, Yassin said.

He suggested the Turkish Airlines’ decision to scrap two flights may have been linked to intelligence it received about a possible security threat.

“We think, you know, Turkish airlines got a sort of security alert that they haven’t passed to us,” he said. He added that it is not unusual for flights in and out of Mogadishu to be cancelled at short notice.

A Turkish Airlines official said a number of flights out of Turkey were canceled this week, including on Tuesday, due to bad weather, and said there were no cancellations for security reasons. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Turkish Airlines spokesman Yahya Ustun also said the cancellations were because of the weather, saying an unspecified number of flights were grounded “due to operational reasons required in the framework of bad weather conditions.”

Daallo has temporarily suspended its operations in the Somali capital following Tuesday’s incident but hopes to restart them soon, said Yassin, the airline’s chief executive.

He described security at Mogadishu airport as “good” and multilayered, and “much better than it used to be.” Authorities and the airline will nonetheless intensify security checks in the wake of Tuesday’s incident, he said.

Daallo typically operates around 15 flights a week to Mogadishu from Somali and nearby international destinations.

Its flight Tuesday was operated by Hermes Airlines, which is based in Athens, Greece, under a lease agreement. Hermes officials have not commented on the incident.

Experts from Somalia and Greece are involved in the investigation into the blast.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed reporting.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck

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