So a few weeks back, I wrote that we shouldn’t jump the gun about the alleged UK liquid bomb hijack thing, because media sensationalism and political spin often distort the initial story, and we don’t get the real facts till sometime later. Looks as if I was way more right than I thought I was.
First of all, it is increasingly seeming like the terrorist plot was not as imminent as we’d been led to believe. Near as I can figure, the terrorists didn’t have any plane tickets purchased for their assault, some of them didn’t even have passports (which apparently can take several months to get in the UK), and it doesn’t even appear that they had any explosives. I believe the arrestees were found to have one of the three chemicals necessary to make the TATP explosive, but that chemical is hydrogen peroxide, which can be used to disinfect wounds, stop halitosis, or badly bleach someone’s hair blonde. I actually have a bottle of it in my bathroom, and I have no intention of making bombs.
Secondly, this “mix the chemicals and go boom” plot seems to be logistically impossible. To make the TATP that the arrestees allegedly wanted to use, you’d need to bring two bottles of liquid on the plane, and one of them would have to be kept cold. Then you apparently need to add chemical B to chemical A, one drop at a time, stirring and monitoring the temperature with a thermometer. The chemical reaction to make TATP would take several hours to occur, and after that, you’d have to dry it for a couple of hours. Needless to say, this sort of behavior on a plane might be construed as “suspicious”, even if you tried to do it in the bathroom. “Stewardess? That man has been in the bathroom the whole flight. He went in there several hours ago, with a cooler, a small bag, and a safety goggles. And now the plane smells like chemistry lab.”
It appears that you could mix up your chemicals in advance and bring them on with you to the airport in a single bottle, but the mixture would be so volatile that you could easily blow yourself up your way to the flight.
Despite this, Americans are still not allowed to bring liquids onto planes.
And third, after surveilling this terror cell for over a year and arresting more than two dozen people, it took British law enforcement almost two weeks to scrape together enough evidence to indict eleven of them. This makes me a bit skeptical about the whole thing.
But, the scare has caused Western air travellers to seriously lose their shit.
- on August 11, three Palestinian-Americans were arrested for attempting to buy 80 cellphones at a Wal-Mart in Michigan. The police searched the men’s car, and found pictures of a nearby bridge, and decided that the men were planning to blow up said bridge. The terror charges were later dropped, but the men were brought up on new charges that they were going to turn these phones into “counterfeit” or “unlocked” phones, or something.
- on August 16, passengers for a flight from Malaga, Spain to Manchester, UK, refused to get on the plane until two young men of south Asian descent were removed. Because they were “acting suspiciously.”
- on August 17, a mentally ill woman on a flight from London to Washington DC was detained and the plane escorted in by F-15 fighter jets. Her erratic behavior caused some to think that she was a terrorist.
- on August 17, two Arab-Americans from Michigan were arrested on terror-related charges for buying hundreds of cellphones in Ohio. They apparently planned to resell the phones for a higher price and turn a profit. The charges were dropped after the men had spent about a week in jail.
- also on August 17, West Virginia’s Tri-State Airport was shut down for 10 hours when a woman of Pakistani descent had two bottles of liquid (one a facial cleanser, not sure what the other one was) in her carryon bag, which tested positive for explosive residue. As it turns out, many household items are considered potential “explosive residue”.
- also on August 17, the Iqbal family from Cheadle, UK, landed in Atlanta for a vacation. The father, Azal, was detained and questioned for hours. He was told that “Asian people” needed a special visa, and sent him back to England, while allowing his family to stay.
- on August 18, three Canadian doctors of Middle Eastern descent were kicked off of a flight from San Francisco to Winnipeg when a belligerent, drunken passenger accused the three of being terrorists.
- on August 23, 12 men of Indian descent were removed from a Amsterdam-Bombay flight and arrested for “suspicious behavior”. They apparently were trying to use their cellphones, passing their cellphones to each other, and changing seats with each other. Dutch authorities say that the men are not terrorists, but for some reason haven’t yet dropped the charges or released the men.
- police in Tuscon, AZ are looking for two men of Middle Eastern men who bought 50 cellphones at a nearby Sam’s Club. They are only wanted for “questioning.”
Facial cleanser. Cellphones. Bridge photos. Seat changing. These are the signs of terrorism. We’ve got to be vigilant, people.
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