Heroic Passengers foil Hare-brained Terrorist attack Above Detroit

The details of the attempted attack on the Amsterdam/ Detroit flight Friday are still murky and I don’t trust the only official from whom we are hearing details, Rep. Peter King of New York. The LAT says Homeland Security is now downplaying the purported al-Qaeda or Yemen connection around which rumors swirled earlier Friday, saying that the al-Qaeda thing may have been “aspirational”.

Umar Farouk Abd al-Mutallib, 23, a Nigerian engineering student at the University College of London, took the flight from Lagos Nigeria to Amsterdam and thence to Detroit. Someone set him up with a leg pouch filled with an incendiary chemical that was supposed to set a big fire on board when he injected it with chemicals from a syringe. The problem with injecting a syringe into a pouch of chemicals nowadays is that the other passengers rather mind. So some tackled him and my guess is, stopped him from getting enough of the syringe discharged to set off a significant blaze. So he just set his leg on fire. It was a replay of the shoe bomber episode, in other words, and suspiciously enough occured on the anniversary of the Richard Reid attempt.

Abd al-Mutallib is said not to have been on a US passenger watch list, but to have been on watch lists of other countries. Or to have been flagged somehow in US records. Larisa Alexandrovna makes the excellent point that the no-fly list in the US is nearly a million strong and many names are there because of pure politics (attended a peace rally), and that if Homeland Security wanted to be efficient they’d pare it down to people like Abd al-Mutallib, for whom they would then have room.

The precise context of such individuals is always difficult to pin down. They fall silent or they exaggerate and lie. I wonder if he has a primarily Nigerian context or a London one. What precise causes animated his hatred? Was he part of an organization or just a small one-off cell?

The incident points to lax security at airports like Abuja and Lagos as a problem for the international system. But it also underlines how difficult it has become for terrorists successfully to attack passenger airliners. Despite King’s characterization of Abd al-Mutallib’s kit as ‘sophisticated,’ in fact the scheme strikes me as hare-brained and likely doomed from the beginning. No cause for complaisance here, but contrary to what rightwing politicians are saying, no cause for panic, either.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

8 Responses

  1. I fly through Nigerian airports regularly. In my experience, the form of security isn't very different from in the west, though I've never seen anyone selected for random body searches. (I also don't know whether the x-ray machines and metal detectors actually work.)

    The problem is that the real holes will be difficult to address. If you knew someone at the airport, it would probably be possible to bypass security. I'd also imagine that random body searches would turn into attempts to shake people down for money.

    If I'm right that Nigerian security flaws stem from these holes in implementation, the challenge with trying to tighten this up is that you can't mandate avoiding petty corruption from on high.

  2. Topic of US Air Strikes and propaganda in US Media which first touts the terrorist killed and seldom mentions the civilian casualties. On Muslim TV they show the civilian deaths and destruction. No wonder we don't understand their reaction to our actions.

    link to salon.com

  3. It was a replay of the shoe bomber episode, in other words, and suspiciously enough occured on the anniversary of the Richard Reid attempt.

    No, it wasn't, professor. Richard Reid was arrested on 12/22/01, not Xmas.

  4. ref : “The problem with injecting a syringe into a pouch of chemicals nowadays is that the other passengers rather mind. So some tackled him and my guess is, stopped him from getting enough of the syringe discharged to set off a significant blaze. As on 9/11 itself, and ever since: the most effective counter-terror (or, indeed counter-occupation) reactions against agents provocateurs have been those of ‘civilians’ defending some sensibility of their own civil rights via what, in retrospect often appears to us as being an almost spontaneous, indignant willingness to sacrifice themselves for greater good. imho If it is not entirely obvious: there is no useful rôle, thus for organized assault troops, privatized security mercenaries, or occupation forces in this drama. The question is not, "Why should We, The People depend on political and military leaders to protect US ~ in an exchange for our grant of their expanded powers the expense of certain civil rights?" Rather, the question is "Why do our political leaders not trust US to to protect and defend our civil liberties, and respect the majority will of We, The People to preserve the well-being of our own military forces?" Who, by their deployment in meaningless endeavors expend the greater part of their blood and treasure capital in a Mission = "making war to achieve and sustain peace" dilemma that quickly devolves into no more realizable accomplishment than the successful defense of themselves Over There — which, we note with some irony, is what We, The People appear to be doing for ourselves, Over Here.

  5. "that if Homeland Security wanted to be efficient they'd pare it down to people like Abd al-Mutallib, for whom they would then have room."

    Actually, I object to the "no-fly list" on the basis that it violates civil liberties such as the right to due process. Improving the efficiency of the list would do nothing to address my concerns. If there is not enough evidence to charge a person with a crime, they don't belong on the list in the first place.

    It's wrong for the state to revoke the rights of innocent people simply because they suspect that they MIGHT commit a crime in the future.

  6. It would seem to me, a British national, flying regularly between the United Kingdom and the United States, that part of the problem here has a lot to do with different security procedures and a lack of confidence/knowledge in how the other side's works. For example, after the Reid episode (or was it 9/11?), the Americans decided they couldn't trust British airport security, so a TSA booth was set up in Terminal 4 to show how "security was properly done" (quotes, mine). The procedures employed were so radically different that it ended up in a near gunfight and a call to a member of parliament to make the Americans realise that this isn't the US and there are different, but equally-effective (if not more so) procedures in place that they will need to adhere to.

  7. as a nigerian i am sadly not surprised by the attempts to slander the entire country and it's institutions using this terrorist incident as an excuse. This is similar to the attempts to blame the Iraqi govt for failures in security while excusing the role of western powers in creating these situations.

    Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, boarded a flight in the UK, and did anyone then blame lax security at British airports, or endemic corruption, or say anything as ridiculous as "I don't know if the metal detectors at Heathrow work"?

    This western reflex to malign the South is a reflection of the mindset that enables people to polarise and dehumanise sections of humanity enough to justify these horrific acts.

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