Al-Shabaab – a growing threat to commercial aviation

Mar 8, 2016

The Somali AQ-affiliated militant group Al-Shabaab is making an increased effort to hit airplanes and airports in Somalia, as well as in neighboring countries allied with the Somali government in its war against the group. On March 6, an Al-Shabaab terrorist initiated an IED concealed inside a laptop or a printer at the entrance to Beledweyne Airport in central Somalia, injuring at least four.

Last month, on February 2, the group initiated an IED concealed inside a similar device on Daallo Airlines Flight D3159 from Mogadishu to Djibouti. While the suicide bomber was the only fatality of the attack, the aircraft was damaged and was forced to return to Mogadishu. It should be noted that this is not the first time the group has employed a laptop IED TTP. Such a device was used in 2013 when the group carried out an attack at the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel in Mogadishu. It is noteworthy that printers were used in the past to conceal IEDs, as demonstrated in AQAP’s foiled cargo planes bomb plot in 2010. 

Furthermore, a leaked memo from the Kenyan Airports Authority dated February 26 suggests that Al-Shabaab is planning major attacks in airports throughout the country, including Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Aviation has long been considered a prime target for terrorist organizations. A successful attack can result in mass casualties, while even a failed attempt is considered to be a success to some degree. This was evident from Al-Shabaab's message following the failed attempt in early February, as the group claimed that while the attack "did not bring down the plane, it struck terror in the hearts of the crusaders." Indeed, such attacks usually attract significant attention from international media. Jihadi groups also see this as part of an economic warfare that aims to erode their enemies' economy, as such attacks have the potential to significantly disrupt commercial air travel. The growing use of IEDs concealed in laptops is especially worrisome, since these devices are currently allowed as carry-on items by airlines and civil aviation authorities.