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December 26, 2009

Game Changer: Alleged Northwest Airline Leg-Bomber Doesn't Fit the Profile

Here is one of the first photos of former British university student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, being arrested on Northwest Airlines 253 after allegedly trying to blow up the Airbus A330 filled with 11 crew members and 278 passengers, as it was on its final landing approach to Detroit Metro Airport. (Photo CNN.)

This unfolding story of the man who attempted (nearly successfully) yesterday to blow up Northwest Airlines 253 in mid-air is nerve wracking on several levels. Yes, he's a Muslim and, apparently, a self-proclaimed "jihadist," which does fit the prevailing "airline terrorist" profile. But that's not what concerns me here. The fact that he is black — black African — is something, at least ethnically, that has not been part of the standard Muslim terrorist paradigm.

Until now.

Consider a few points. First, this "leg-bomber" and/or his accomplic(es) managed to smuggle liquid and powder bomb components onto this trans-Atlantic flight, assemble them in flight, and ignite the mixture is cause for grave consternation for every law enforcement agency with any role to play in preventing this kind of thing. If this jihad-addled yahoo got this close to killing 289 innocent people, my hunch is that there are other such yahoos out there all ginned up and ready to go on similar airline slay rides.

Second, as someone who does a lot of airline travel each year myself, foreign and domestic, I know that the man who is being credited with foiling the terrorist in the act of igniting the explosive device (or whatever it was that he had strapped to his leg), was very possibly the only thing that prevented the attack from being successful.

It's possible that Abdulmutallab, the wannabe bomber, is simply an inept bumbler, though if his claim that he was dispatched on this mission by Al Quaeda or some derivative group plays out as true, then perhaps that means that, thanks to the relentless campaign against them by the U.S. and Britain, they have been reduced to conning bumblers into doing their dirty work. But regardless, thank God that heroic passenger had the awareness and the fight in him to lunge at the bomber and, with his bare hands, rip the already burning bomb off his leg so it could be squelched before it could explode. God bless that man!

Other passengers on this flight helped subdue the attacker (God bless them, too), once they became aware of the danger, only moments later, but the Dutch man who got to him first is very likely the one who prevented the plane from disintegrating in a fiery explosion, somewhere over Detroit, as the plane made its landing approach. I know from experience, traveling fairly often on long, trans-oceanic flights that, because the clear and present danger of in-flight terrorism has not abated one whit since 9-11 (remember, the conventional wisdom, with which I wholeheartedly concur, is "if, not when"), it can be nerve wracking for those passengers who are alert to the danger while in the air. I know this not only from my own experiences, but also as a result of conversations about this very issues, while flying, with flight attendants, dead-heading pilots, and other aware, concerned passengers.

Within a few hours of this story breaking on the Drudge Report and other major news sites, a close friend of mine who travels on business frequently between Detroit and Amsterdam's "Schiphol Airport, texted me: "I take that same flight all the time -- it's my primary one. I'll be on it in a month, twice. Unbelievable!" I can readily understand my friend's unease over this. I feel his pain.

True story: A few years ago, I was seated in business class on a flight on a major US airline from Chicago to New Delhi, India. The 777 was configured in that class as 2-4-2, and I was seated on the left-hand aisle of the middle section. About 9 or 10 hours into the flight (it's a 14-hour haul) I watched in shock as a man dressed in a traditional Pakistani outfit literally ran up the right-hand aisle toward first class. The cabin was dark, most everyone was asleep, and a flight attendant who was alert enough to this guy stepped out from the galley into the aisle and physically blocked his way from moving past her toward the front of the plane.

She barked loudly and firmly, "Sir! You cannot come into this cabin!" a few passengers seated nearby stirred, sat up, and looked around to see what was happening. The guy seemed to hesitate for a moment or two and then said he was trying to get to the bathroom. The flight attendant pointed to the back of the plane and told him firmly and audibly enough to be heard by everyone in business class, "I'm sorry, sir, but you can only use the lavatories in that part of the plane. You cannot come into this part of the plane." And with that, he turned and walked casually toward the back. I didn't see him again during the remainder of the flight, but I admit that my thoughts revolved around the previously publicized theory that Muslim terrorist engage periodically in "testing" the reactions of airline crews during flights as a way to determine what methods of attack will and won't work during a real attack.

A few minutes after that unsettling altercation took place, I made my way to the galley and told the flight attendant that I had watched the whole thing and asked what she thought it meant. She seemed tense and kind of nervous and she said she had already alerted the captain and the rest of the flight crew about it. About all I could do was let her know that I'd be awake and watching, if she needed any help. How I prayed that nothing would happen that would bring things to that stage. Nothing did, obviously, thank God. But that incident branded on my mind and took up residence in the "what-if" section of my imagination.

What if that guy, or several, had tried to do something bad on that flight? What would I have done? Anything? Nothing? It's impossible to say. All I know is that I tell myself I would act, if the situation ever required it (thank God it never has). Who knows what any of us would actually do if faced with mortal danger in mid-flight. Thank God that the Dutch passenger on yesterday's Northwest's flight sprang into action when he did. I shudder to imagine what would have happened if the attacker had succeeded.

This British press report discussed how he tried to blow up the plane, as does Politico.

And finally, third, it's being reported — and the pictures that are starting to come out indicate — that the terrorist did not fit the racial stereotype of what we have come to assume in-flight attackers would look like. He is not an Arab, he's Nigerian. He speaks presumably excellent English with a British accent. Unlike the "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, He doesn't look "the part."

Racial profiling? Ha. This incident is a game-changer. This changes everything. Wait and see.

Christmas Morning Shocker: Majestic Irish Cathedral Destroyed by Fire

The north-central Irish Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise has suffered the tragic loss of its 150-year old cathedral yesterday morning in what may have been an act of arson. Just a few hours after the bishop celebrated Midnight Mass, the fire broke out. By the time it was extinguished the beautiful interior was completely gutted. Of course, it's too soon to know yet what caused the fire, but given the turmoil still at a fever pitch of shock and anger in Ireland over the recently revealed devastating report of clergy sexual abuse (with a number of bishops resigning in disgrace over it) the possibility of arson is certainly plausible. I pray for my Irish Catholic brethren as they are hit by this new and unexpected blow.

UPDATE: The origin of this fire is being actively investigated, according to this U.K. source, and the possibility that it was caused by arson (perhaps in retaliation against the Catholic Church in Ireland because of the recent sex-scandal report)
is also being widely discussed.