On Christmas Day, a man attempted to detonate a bomb on board an aircraft flying from the Netherlands to the United States. Quick action by the passengers and crew of Northwest flight 253 combined with incompetence on the part of the bomber resulted in a small fire and a few burns, mostly to the bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but no explosion.
It will come as no shock to you that Mr. Abdulmutallab is a Muslim. Like many of the 9/11 terrorists, he came from a relatively privileged family. In this case, Mr. Abdulmutallab was one of 16 children of a prominent Nigerian banker. (One wonders if this “banking” was another of those Nigerian money scams that abound on the internet).
Mr. Abdulmutallab was trained at University College in London where he received a mechanical engineering degree in 2008. He was president of the college’s Islamic Society during 2006 and 2007. He received his terrorist training in Yemen, allegedly from an affiliate of al Qaeda. There is no word as to whether al Qaeda awarded him a degree. Fortunately, neither of the institutions of higher learning he attended apparently knew much about detonators— a good thing, as Mr. Abdulmutallab was carrying pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), a fairly potent explosive. Had he successfully detonated the PETN, it could have blown a large enough hole in the aircraft to bring it down.
Once again, airport security failed (twice) to prevent a life-threatening incident. George Carlin once pointed out that airport security was largely a joke, just a charade “to make white people feel safe.” There are plenty of experts in the security business who will tell you Carlin wasn’t joking.
At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Mr. Abdulmutallab was re-screened by security even though he had already been screened at Lagos, Nigeria. So two aviation security agencies entirely missed Mr. Abdulmutallab’s explosives. On top of that, Mr. Abdulmutallab recently had been added to a US ‘watch list’ after his father had reported him to the US embassy in Nigeria, advising officials there that his son’s words and behavior made his family suspicious of his intentions. The watch list contains about 550,000 names. Apparently it is being used as a door stop at some TSA office. That’s probably the best use for the watch list since boarding an aircraft under a phony name is pathetically easy. This security loophole has been well known for at least ten years. Slate published a good account of how to do it five years ago.
In the days following Mr Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt, airports initiated “tightened” security in which passengers’ carry-on baggage was subjected to visual search in addition to the standard x-ray search. Passengers were also “patted down” to make sure they weren’t wearing explosives. (Mr. Abdulmutallab’s explosives were in his underwear). This response is typical of airport security the world over. The protocols are designed to foil the last bombing or hijacking attempt rather than the next one.
Al Qaeda is known to have facilities in Yemen but my bet is that Mr. Abdulmutallab was ‘trained’ by some impostors who claimed their training was ‘al Qaeda approved.’ The real al Qaeda bunch know enough about detonators so that Mr. Abdulmutallab likely would have succeeded had al Qaeda trained him.
In fact, I’m going to bet that there are phony “al Qaeda” training facilities being set up all around the Middle East and Africa. Hang a couple of Osama’s pictures up next to a shredded American flag and a picture of the collapsing World Trade Center. Charge tuition to aspiring middle-class jihadists. Teach them a few things from the Anarchist’s Cookbook and send them on their way. If they manage to blow something up, great. If they get caught because they were poorly trained, what are they gonna do, sue you?