On Sunday, it was hot enough here in Charleston that I burned my feet on the sidewalk outside our apartment while walking our dog. A few hundred miles to the west, in Birmingham, Alabama, the high temperature reached near ninety degrees despite rain. At the airport there in Birmingham, a Muslim gentleman from Detroit, Michigan named Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi arrived to catch a flight. He was flying to Amsterdam, connecting once at O’Hare International in Chicago.
Despite being in the deep South in late August, al Soofi wore such bulky clothing as to attract enough attention from airport personnel that he was referred for further screening. According to an ABCNews report, security officials in Birmingham found that he was carrying $7,000 in cash, and a search of his checked baggage revealed
- A cell phone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol
- Three cell phones taped together
- Several watches taped together
- A box cutter
- Three large knives
Thankfully, al Soofi and another man were arrested and charged with “preparation of a terrorist attack.”
Too bad the pair weren’t arrested until they reached Amsterdam.
That’s right. Despite the bulky clothing, the cash, the knives and the taped watches, phones and liquid container, according to the ABCNews report al Soofi and his luggage were cleared for the flight from Birmingham to Chicago.
That’s right, he was cleared for the flight. You and I need to take off our shoes and keep our shampoo in little containers. We need to keep pickable locks on our luggage, if we lock our luggage at all. Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi overtly was testing the water when it comes to airport security, and he was cleared for the flight.
Even better, once al Soofi landed in the Windy City, security officials learned that his checked luggage didn’t quite make it to Chicago with him. At least not all of it. Nope. Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi checked some of his luggage on a flight to Washington, D.C., then to Dubai, and then to Yemen, even though he himself wasn’t on any of them. Is that even possible? As far as I knew, the airlines don’t run a baggage-shipping service — heck, they charge passengers on the flight $15 just to check a bag to the same destination.
And yet al Soofi, who in Chicago met up with a Yemeni named Hezem al Murisi, was cleared along with al Murisi to fly from O’Hare to Amsterdam.
Have we gone insane? The folks at ABC are careful to point out that at no point were explosives detected anywhere within the luggage which either went to Amsterdam via Chicago or Yemen via D.C. and Dubai — but did anyone check al Soofi’s underpants? What about the other guy’s britches? Between the shoe bomber and the scrotal bomber, I think it’s fair to say that the terrorists are a step or two ahead of our security officials, despite a fortunate problem with execution; would it not be prudent, given the obvious, to secure the lives of those other passengers on those other flights–Birmingham to Chicago, Chicago to Amsterdam, Birmingham to Washington, Washington to Dubai, Dubai to Yemen–by keeping al Soofi and al Murisi on the ground and subject to interrogation?
And yet we did nothing of the sort. Instead, neither were arrested or detained until after they put hundreds and hundreds of innocent lives in danger.
At this point, why even bother with the TSA? Why even bother with Homeland Security? If we’re going to just let anybody on an airplane regardless of what they bring with them or how they’re behaving, why not allow innocent passengers to arm themselves? Why not just allow a free-for-all? Why only load one round when we’re playing Russian Roulette?
The political correctness has to stop. If it were me, a 6’3″, 260-pound white guy with the bulky clothing and taped-together electronics, would I be cleared for the flight? I’d hope not, because it is patently unfair to those other passengers who expect that every reasonable step necessary to secure their safety will be taken by the airlines and by all parties involved. If Dutch officials were satisfied that al Soofi and al Murisi were overtly planning a terrorist attack, what exactly was so different here in the States?
If we are not able to see what is directly in front of us, what hope do we have with regard to recognizing those working behind the scenes to bring about our demise?
UPDATE, 7:45pm Tuesday
Okay, we need to clear a few things up.
First, the two men–al Soofi and al Murisi–apparently did not know each other and were not traveling together. Second, both were flying to Yemen and missed their flights, explaining the different trip for al Soofi’s baggage and the coincidence that they would be on the same flight from Chicago to Amsterdam.
Nevertheless, I still have two problems with the whole situation.
First,why arrest al Murisi? As far as we know, he wasn’t wearing bulky clothing and did not have odd items in his checked luggage. If it’s the case that Dutch officials arrested al Soofi with cause and just wanted to detain any Muslim man sitting near him on the airplane, I can’t endorse that. However, as we still don’t know many details, I’m going to reserve judgment until we learn more.
Second,it still doesn’t change the common sense angle to this. Both men were traveling to Yemen, certainly the new hotbed of terrorism if there is one. Certainly one of the two was traveling with questionable–though not illegal–materials, absolutely enough to raise questions sufficient to err on the side of prevention and keep al Soofi off of the flight. Finally, when I hear that the Department of Homeland Security cautions Americans “not to jump to conclusions,” I think of the initial response to the Times Square bomber, the president’s failure to recognize the Fort Hood shooting and the Arkansas military recruiter shooting as acts of terrorism.
This administration has cashed out whatever political capital it ever had when it came to recognizing, preventing and fighting radical Islam across the world. I don’t trust them, not when it comes to distinguishing good from evil. So, while the initial assessment of the facts by ABCNews and by myself may have only partially been correct, it absolutely, unequivocally does not change the systemic problem at hand.