MOGADISHU, Somalia – A Somali court acquitted and released a suspect who tried to board a plane in Mogadishu in November with chemicals and a syringe — materials similar to those used in the attempted attack against a Detroit-bound airliner.
The news that Somali officials freed the suspect will hamper efforts by U.S. investigators to learn if the two attempted attacks were linked. Terrorism analysts had said the arrest in Somalia could prove highly valuable to the Detroit investigation.
Somali Police Commissioner Gen. Ali Hassan Loyan said the court released the suspect on Dec. 12 after ruling that officials hadn't demonstrated he intended to commit a crime. The man, whose name has not been released, said the chemicals were to process camera film.
In light of the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound plane, Loyan said Somali authorities would collaborate with U.S. officials and share information and the confiscated materials.
"Somalia's federal government affirms that it is ready to double its cooperation with the countries in the world, particularly with America, for it is clear that the incident that happened in Mogadishu and the one that happened in a region in America are similar," Loyan told a news conference in the Somali capital.
U.S. officials on Wednesday learned about the early November incident at Mogadishu's international airport and began investigating for links between it and the Detroit case.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. investigators were working with Somali authorities, and linking the case to the Christmas attack "would be speculative at this point."
A Nairobi-based diplomat, though, said the incident has similarities to the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound plane. The Somali was said to have a syringe, liquid and powdered chemicals — tools similar to those used by the Nigerian suspect on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The Somali suspect was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before boarding the Daallo Airlines plane bound for the northern Somali city of Hargeisa. The plane was then headed to Djibouti and Dubai.
A government-appointed expert concluded that the suspects' materials could not have brought down the commercial airliner. Loyan said the expert did conclude though that the materials were a danger to the aircraft.