Evidence has reached debkafile's counter-terror sources that the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 which crashed after takeoff from Beirut on January 25, killing all 92 aboard, was blown up in mid-air.
This was an al-Qaeda operation timed for one month to the day after its failed attempt to destroy an American Northwest airliner bound for Detroit.
It is becoming clear that either a bomb was planted on the Ethiopian flight with a timer or a passenger acted as suicide bomber.
Western security agencies in the Middle East involved in combating al Qaeda believe that its planners picked on the Ethiopian flight for more than one reason apart from the date: They had been tipped off that a group of French undercover agents, including Maria Sanchez Pietton, wife of the French ambassador to Beirut, and top Hizballah operatives, including secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, would be aboard.
Mme Pietton lost her life in the crash, while the Hizballah travelers were saved by switching to another flight at the last minute.
The first bodies recovered from the Mediterranean off the Lebanese town of Naama showed all the hallmarks of explosion victims: They were found strapped to their seats with their heads, hands and feet blown off and scattered, typical effects of an explosive blast.
Eye-witnesses at the time heard a loud explosion and saw the plane enveloped in a ball of fire as it gained altitude after takeoff from Beirut international airport.
Both France and Hizballah have denied they were targets.
Lebanese officials, led by prime minister Saad Hariri, have spent two weeks trying to hide the fact that the Ethiopian airline disaster was caused by terror. But Lebanese health minister Jawad Khalifeh gave the game away by a slip of the tongue Tuesday, Feb. 9: “The plane exploded during flight and the cabin, as well as the bodies of those on board, were dispersed into the sea, in different locations,” he said, trying to explain why some of the corpses were found dismembered.
He then tried to correct himself by saying he "didn't mean a military explosion."
More confirmation of a terrorist hand behind the attack is found in the deep involvement of US intelligence, including the FBI, in the investigation of the disaster from the first moment. The US survey ship Ocean Alert was dispatched to the area of the crash and dropped a miniature submarine into the depths to retrieve fragments of the airliner from the seabed.
A US intelligence and naval headquarters was set up at Beirut harbor to coordinate the salvage of the plane from the sea. Treating the crash as terror-related, Washington ordered the plane to be reconstructed from recovered fragments to establish the site of the explosion and its cause.
US officials are also shy of discussing the case in public and admitting the crash was caused by an act of terror. It took place on January 25, shortly after President Barack Obama said “Al-Qaeda has been weakened." In an address to the American people to calm their anxieties after the Nigerian would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had failed to detonate explosives carried in his underwear.
Al Qaeda's success in blowing a civilian airliner out of the sky over the Middle East proved the opposite. It therefore became the subject of a comprehensive cover-up, joined by France. Before the black box, recovered Tuesday, had even been examined, French sources announced that human error by the pilot was the cause of the Ethiopian airliner crash.
debkafile's counter-terror sources recall a previous al Qaeda attack on a civilian airliner in the Middle East.
Six years ago, on January 8, 2004, an Egyptian charter blew up after takeoff at Sharm al-Sheikh for Cairo, killing all 148 French citizens aboard on their way back to Paris from a Red Sea vacation.
Neither Cairo nor Paris ever admitted that the disaster was caused by terrorists