The Day I Was Mistaken For A Terrorist

For some reason, people sometimes mistake me for a terrorist. Once I got interrogated by an air marshal for merely looking out a window, and the following year in London I totally freaked out several people on a bus.

The second incident was, I suppose, partially my fault. I boarded a city bus with a large suitcase, which I put on the luggage rack. Since the rack was right next to the door, I moved a little away from it so I wouldn’t be in the way.

For a couple of minutes I stood there, keeping an eye on my bag and not listening to the buzz of voices around me. One conversation, however, began to get my attention.

“I just don’t think it looks right,” a worried woman’s voice said.

“Well, then mention it to the driver,” a man said.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” the woman replied.

“Look, you’re worried about it just sitting there. You don’t see the owner. So go up to the driver and mention it,” the man said. He didn’t sound worried himself. Instead he sounded a bit condescending.

I turned to them.”Are you talking about my bag?” I asked.

A wave of relief washed over the woman’s face.

“Yes!” she cried. “I didn’t see you put it down and nobody was standing around it, and I got very worried.”

“Don’t worry, no bomb in it, just a bunch of dirty clothes,” I said. Then I turned to the man next to her. “But you didn’t seem worried.”

He shrugged. “Nobody would need a bag that big to blow up a bus.”

I laughed. “Well maybe I’m a really inefficient bomber and I don’t know how to mix explosives correctly.”

“Oh no,” he dismissed that idea. “That is a huge bag. If it was filled with explosives you could barely lift it.”

I studied them for a moment and said, “So how do you know I’m really not a terrorist? All you have is my word.”

They looked back at me – middle-aged, middle-class, white me. The woman suddenly looked embarrassed. The man looked defiant.

“You don’t fit the profile,” he said.

“Remember Timothy McVeigh?” I asked.

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “The right wing loons in your country rarely do such things. Most terrorists look nothing like you.”

I smiled at him. “Who’s to say I’m not a right-wing loon?”

“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP THIS CONVERSATION?!!!” A woman squawked from a few rows back.

“Sorry ma’am. This was all hypothetical,” I said.

She immediately looked relieved, just like the first woman. All it took was a reassuring word from a complete stranger – a light-skinned, well-spoken stranger.

She, too, had missed the point.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Terrorist gets 15 years for JFK airport plot

JFK, JFK airport, terrorismA terrorist who plotted to blow up fuel tanks at JFK airport has been given 15 years in prison, the BBC reports. Abdel Nur, a citizen from Guyana, tried to meet an Al-Qaeda explosives expert in order to blow up JFK airport’s fuel depot, and the fuel lines that run below an adjoining neighborhood. He hoped to kill thousands in the attack.

Russell Defreitas, Kareem Ibrahim , and Abdul Kadir were also arrested. Kadir is a former member of parliament from Guyana and is now serving a life sentence. Defreitas has been found guilty and will be sentenced in February. Ibrahim’s trial is scheduled for April.

The plot was foiled when Kadir and Defreitas discussed their plans in front of an unnamed informant. This informant recorded their conversation and alerted authorities. This last detail is interesting. These radical Muslims would hardly have discussed such a plan in front of a non-Muslim. It stands to reason, then, that the informant is a Muslim. What these two nutcases didn’t understand is that most Muslims aren’t terrorists. This fact will almost certainly be lost amid the news of another “Muslim terrorist plot”.

There are no hard figures for the number of Muslims in the United States since the U.S. Census doesn’t record religion. One study by Dr. Tom W. Smith of the University of Chicago estimates the Muslim population in the U.S. at around 1.9-2.8 million. If most Muslims were terrorists, as many people believe, the U.S. would be suffering attacks every day. Luckily this is not the case. Vigilance defeats terrorists, fear and stereotyping helps them win.

[Photo courtesy Doug Letterman]

Man ignites small bomb on U.S. bound plane

A Nigerian man is under arrest after igniting a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit yesterday.

Abdul Mudallad, 23, used a powder strapped to his leg mixed with a syringe containing some sort of liquid to set off a small explosion on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam as it made its final descent into Detroit.

While the mixture did explode, the explosion was very small and the ensuing flames only harmed Mr. Mudallad, giving him third-degree burns on one leg. Passengers quickly tackled him. None of the other 278 passengers or 11 crew were injured. One passenger described the explosion as a “little pop”. The flames needed to be put out with a fire extinguisher.

President Obama has ordered increased security for air travel and the Department of Homeland Security has added extra screening measures.

The bomber was on a U.S. government database for having “a significant terrorist connection” although that did not qualify him for the “no-fly” list. Why someone with a significant terrorist connection can fly on a U.S. airline will doubtlessly be a major question in coming days.

Under questioning after the incident, Mr. Mudallad claimed he has connections with Al-Qaeda and got the chemicals for his bomb in Yemen.

Some reports state Mr. Mudallad is a student of University College London, but a search of the university’s online directory did not reveal his name. The directory, however, only lists students and faculty who have publicly available contact information.

UPDATE, Dec. 27 1242GMT: This post was made shortly after the incident occurred and was correct according to the latest reports at that time. Two details have emerged that should be addressed. The man’s name is now said to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and University College London states that he was a mechanical engineering student, but he is not currently enrolled. I felt it was best not to change the original post, as it is now of historic interest in showing how breaking news stories can change fundamentally over time, but since two later posts link to this one I felt I should update the name and university status. More details will doubtless emerge and be covered in later posts.