NAIROBI, Kenya –
Nearly three months after the reported crash of a plane outside Mogadishu, the fate of twelve passengers aboard remains unknown. Unofficial sources in Somalia say the passengers were mercenaries, all captured by militants loyal to the Islamist group al-Shabaab.
The Kenya-registered Dornier DO-328 turbo-prop departed Nairobi October 28th, its intended destination Balidogle airport, a former military airstrip 110 km south of the Somali capital. That airbase is reportedly in use now by Americans, to launch drones against al-Shabaab leaders. Encountering bad weather, the aircraft went down in the Shabaab-controlled district of Afgoye, south of Somalia’s capital in Lower Shabelle region. In addition to the dozen private military contractors aboard, the flight was transporting supplies for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Sources add that the passengers were “mostly western,” but included three Fijians.
The flight’s fate has been clouded in rumor and fragmentary information. Abdukdir Sidee, governor of Lower Shabelle, confirmed that a plane had crashed outside Mogadishu. “We know that the aircraft crashed in a rural area called Osman-durre,” he said, and added, “We sent the Somali National Army forces and Amisom troops to the area to secure the plane.”
Residents outside of Afgoye reported finding jet fuel on trees near the crash site. Some reports indicated that militant al-Shabaab sympathizers who control the area overran the crash site, camouflaging the plane with branches and leaves.
While the plane had been chartered by AMISOM, a source wishing to remain anonymous said the plane had been “flying off the books” (AMISOM did not have the operation on its flight schedule), and that the passengers comprised “a number of white military-aged males carrying a lot of cash.”
This has led some to speculate that the plane had been carrying mercenaries since the American private military company Bancroft had deployed men to rescue its own personnel.
Since the crash there’s been little information on casualties.
“I think it is bad news for the white hostages at this stage.With potential for filmed executions being distributed via social media,” an American analyst told me.
The only official statement came from the US Department of Defense, which state that no US government personnel were on the plane.
Some call it a media black out. However, per unconfirmed reports the militants had seized all passengers and were taken them away from the crash site. It is not clear however whether the pilots were taken.
Word from the Somali government is that the crash area is controlled by the federal government – not al-Shabaab – and that those aboard the plane were was safely removed and taken to Mogadishu.
An unidentified source related to the peacekeeping mission insists the militants have the passengers, at least, and have separated the mercenaries into two groups. “Negotiations are quietly underway,” he adds.
More recently the source said an “Iranian agent” said the passengers survived the plane crash and made it to safety in Baledogle.