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Annoying allegations of terrorism

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Fact: Yesterday, a 23 yo Nigerian man attempted to ignite a flammable substance aboard flight DL253, a short time before landing in Detroit. Other passengers saw a bright light and a sound of fireworks before the man was stopped and the device extinguished.

The plane departed from Amsterdam. The first news reports in the Netherlands described the situation as “failed attempt to light a firecracker on board a plane departed from Schiphol;” “man controlled by other passengers after lighting a piece of fireworks;” and “the perpetrator was injured by fire, no-one else wounded.”

Curious, I used my brains:

  • the materials in a plane cabin are fireproof;
  • the other passengers heard and saw fire + a combustion device needs containment to become explosive (this is opposed to chemical explosives which do not need containment) + chemical explosives do not burn;
  • if there was a deliberate intent to cause heavy flight disruption, the man could have fired his device in the plane's toilets where other passengers could not have controlled him.

In other words, while the motive of the man is not clear and we do not know the exact nature of his device, his actions where not well thought-out, and of limited risk for the plane and the passengers (burns are not deadly) — at least not of any more risk than a heavily drunk passenger breaking his wine bottle and using the glass shards as a weapon.

I would suggest the following exercise: when reading about this event, consider only the first-hand accounts by witness passengers on-board, and try to dismiss entirely any account from ‘US officials’. The contrast between the facts above and what follows is striking.

Soon after the situation was known in the US, the tone of the news reports there became different: “terrorism attack on US-bound plane;” “terrorist attempts to fire a bomb aboard a plane, heroic action from other passengers to stop him;” and “Moslim terrorist declares he was directed by Al-Qaeda”. The news reports in the Netherlands are then modified: “intelligence reports in the US indicate that…” and “US sources report that…”

Also, the plane was isolated upon landing in a remote area of Detroit's airport and all passengers and crew were interrogated by the FBI. Presumably, the perpetrator was subject to “advanced interrogation techniques.” Whether his “admission” that he was acting for Al-Qaeda is true or merely the wishful thinking of his interrogators will be lost with the torture logs, obviously.

Meanwhile, in an opportunistic move the White House declares that terrorism control in airports worldwide must be strengthened.

But this is Christmas. You should be celebrating, so nothing to see there. Move along.


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