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Stratfor probed 2010 plane crash conspiracies: leaks

Lebanese soldiers gather debris from the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in the sea on the shore near Beirut airport, Lebanon Jan. 25, 2010.(AP)

BEIRUT: Sources speaking to Stratfor intelligence business suggested causes other than the official explanation of pilot error in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 409 in 2010 off the coast of Lebanon, emails released by WikiLeaks show. The documents released show Stratfor investigator Reva Bhalla received contradictory explanations for the crash that killed 90 people after taking off from Beirut’s airport in 2010.

The sources suggested the crash was caused by a Hezbollah action gone awry or a Mossad sabotage. The information came from Lebanese military sources and a Hezbollah media source as well as additional details from a hospital director.

Pilot error was listed as the most probable cause of the crash according to the official report issued this year by Lebanese, French and United States investigatory organizations. The Ethiopian party of the investigation rejected the findings, saying other causes were to blame such as sabotage or a lightning strike.

Massive numbers of emails from Stratfor have been released by WikiLeaks this year, in an attempt by the anti-secrecy group to expose a shadowy intelligence business of “questionable legality.”

Some heralded the releases as an important exposure of illegal activity by an American business while others questioned the reliability of both WikiLeaks and Stratfor for unsubstantiated claims in their work.

According to the email chain released by WikiLeaks a Lebanese military source told Stratfor that there were 20 Hezbollah “operatives” aboard the plane transporting explosives to Africa and that these devices went off by accident.

“They were part of HZ [Hezbollah’s] plans to target US and Israeli interests in the event of military strikes against Iran. He believes an explosive device on board seems to have went off inadvertently,” the email written by Bhalla reads.

Just over a week later Bhalla sent another email to her company citing a “Lebanese military intel source” that claimed the plane was not brought down by a Hezbollah explosive but one from Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, to target a Hezbollah member.

“Lebanese intelligence community believes the plane was sabotaged by the Mossad. In his opinion, it was the first shot in the forthcoming war between Israel and Hizbullah. He says the Israelis were acting on the false belief that Hasan Nasrallah’s cousin Hashem Safieddine was among the passengers of the plane.”

There is no indication whether the Lebanese military and Lebanese military intelligence sources are the same person; both are given a reliability rating of “B.”

The claims of sabotage or an explosion are strongly questioned by Bhalla’s colleagues who wondered why so many Hezbollah operatives would get on the same plane during inclement weather.

“Hez and the Iranians are masters at covert operations and movements. I can’t see them making such an obvious move.”

Bhalla responded that the Iranians and Hezbollah were “panicky,” because of a looming threat from Israel. After more questioning Bhalla concluded “I trust my source but, after all, he could be off.”

Bhalla’s other sources provided details on who may have been scheduled to be aboard the flight, but did not directly suggest a cause for the crash.

According to the emails, a Hezbollah media source with reliability of “D” said an important party member was supposed to be aboard the flight but canceled because of security reasons. The director of Rafik Hariri Hospital told Stratfor that an important Shiite diamond merchant was aboard the craft when it crashed.

The final report of the official investigation issued by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry found no explosive residue on the aircraft and provided a much more straightforward cause of the crash.

“The investigation revealed that the probable causes of the accident were the flight crew’s mismanagement of the aircraft’s speed, altitude, headings and attitude,” the report read.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2012, on page 3.

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