The Lap Bomber Mystery

A case that just gets curiouser and curiouser

by , December 28, 2009

It just wouldn’t be Christmas in the age of terror if we didn’t have a visitation, ostensibly from al-Qaeda, now would it? ‘Tis the season, and all that. Recall Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," arrested on December 22, 2001, for trying to blow up American Airlines flight 63, coming into Miami from Paris. As in the current case involving one Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, the explosive used was PETN, also known as pentaerythritol: Reid, like Umar, was subdued by passengers and airline attendants, and, to add yet another touch of déjà vu, Reid’s stunt led to the imposition of the take-off-your-shoes rule at airport security, just as Umar’s midair antics have now inspired the Transportation Safety Authority to inaugurate a spate of new regulations: nothing in your lap, please, and no getting up from your seat for a solid hour before landing.

Also please note the timing: the Reid incident occurred at a volatile moment, right after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and just as the Bush administration was ramping up to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq. Umar, the lap bomber – so called because he apparently had his explosive device hidden in his pants – also leaps onto the international stage at a sensitive time, when President Obama is launching a major offensive in Afghanistan and the US has "assisted" Yemen in its air strikes on the alleged al-Qaeda stronghold in that country – where Umar, we’re told, received "training" and the actual explosive device.

Yes, the parallels are certainly eerie – but so what? After all, these terrorists are seemingly a simple-minded lot, if the behavior and demeanor of, say, Richard Reid is any indication. How many different explosive substances are available for such a "job," and, at any rate, what else can one expect from the TSA in response except a bunch of useless and needlessly intrusive regulations that have little relevance to what happened? And, of course, the US, it seems, is always launching some new attack or military campaign, somewhere, so the timing is pure chance. Right?

What’s more, the pattern fails when we take into account our own mindset, eight years after the Shoe-na’bomber affair: back then, we were all too frightened out of our wits to really question anything the government told us, and the news media reported. We took it all at face value, and trusted in the gods that we wouldn’t all be blown to smithereens in the next attack, which – for all we knew – could have come at any time.

Eight years later, our mental processes have been quickened, through bitter experience, and a growing cynicism which leads us to notice – and question – several seeming anomalies, such as: why, when Umar’s own father – a prominent banker – contacted the US embassy, and met with the CIA as well as the Nigerian intelligence agency, and warned them his son might pose a danger, was Umar allowed on a plane entering the US? Authorities tell us that he was in a database, consisting of over half a million people, said to pose a risk, but not on the "no fly" list, in spite of his own father’s warning.

How could this happen? Inquiring minds want to know.

Another break in the Shoe’na-bomber pattern is Umar himself, whose life of wealth and privilege stands in stark contrast to Reid’s. While Reid was the poor son of a jailbird, a nobody with an apparently limited mental capacity, Umar is the son of Dr. Umaru Mutallab, former economics minister in the Nigerian government and one of the country’s most prominent bankers: schooled at the exclusive British International School in Lome, Togo, and an aspiring mechanical engineer, he had a bright future ahead of him, and if any single word could be used to characterize his life prior to the Christmas day incident, it would be access.

Access not only to the best schools and opportunities, and to his posh London digs, but also access to planes without the proper documents, as one Kurt Haskell, who was on the same flight with Umar, testifies:

“I was on this flight today and am thankful to be alive. My wife and I were returning from an African safari and had this connecting flight through Amsterdam. I sat in row 27, which was 7 rows behind the terrorist. I got to see the whole thing take place and it was very scary. Thanks to a few quick acting people I am still alive today.

"…I was next to the terrorist when he checked in at the Amsterdam airport early on Christmas. My wife and I were playing cards directly in front of the check in counter. This is what I saw (and I relayed this to the FBI when we were held in customs):

"An Indian man in a nicely dressed suit around age 50 approached the check in counter with the terrorist and said ‘This man needs to get on this flight and he has no passport.’ The two of them were an odd pair as the terrorist is a short, black man that looked like he was very poor and looks around age 17(Although I think he is 23 he doesn’t look it). It did not cross my mind that they were terrorists, only that the two looked weird together. The ticket taker said ‘you can’t board without a passport.’ The Indian man then replied, ‘He is from Sudan, we do this all the time.’. I can only take from this to mean that it is difficult to get passports from Sudan and this was some sort of sympathy ploy. The ticket taker then said ‘You will have to talk to my manager,’ and sent the two down a hallway. I never saw the Indian man again as he wasn’t on the flight. It was also weird that the terrorist never said a word in this exchange. Anyway, somehow, the terrorist still made it onto the plane. I am not sure if it was a bribe or just sympathy from the security manager."

This goes way beyond weird, all the way to sinister. Perhaps we should take Janet Napolitano’s assurance that “right now we have no indication that it is part of anything larger” with a gargantuan grain of salt. Not only that, but maybe we should simply make a new rule, as follows: anything Madame Napolitano or any government official says about this or any other similar incident should be considered, at the outset, an outright lie. Assuming deception as the default, we might be better off believing the exact opposite. This argument is especially compelling in light of what Mr. Haskell has to say about the aftermath of the Christmas bomb attempt:

"FBI also arrested a different Indian man while we were held in customs after a bomb sniffing dog detected a bomb in his carry on bag and he was searched after we landed. This was later confirmed while we were in customs when an FBI agent said to us ‘You are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. Read between the lines. Some of you saw what just happened.’(The arrest of the other Indian man). I am not sure why this hasn’t made it into any news story, but I stood about 15-20 feet away from the other Indian man when he was cuffed and arrested after his search."

Why isn’t the "mainstream" media reporting this? Well, perhaps they just don’t know about it: or it could be they do know and have been asked to keep a lid on it by the authorities, not the first time such a thing has happened when it comes to the dissemination of "sensitive" information.

In any case, given the veracity of Haskell’s account, it is clear that, contrary to news reports, Umar was no "lone nut," but had at least one accomplice with him on board the plane. Furthermore, both of his accomplices – the one who got him on the plane without a passport, and the one nabbed by the bomb-sniffing dog – may have been Indians.

What India has to do with all this is sheer speculation. While India’s foreign intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), stands accused by Pakistanis of being behind much of the sectarian strife that riles the region, it’s unclear – to me, at least – what interest they would have in stirring the pot in faraway Yemen, the supposed source of the plot. If, however, it should suddenly be discovered that the "real" source of all this lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where Washington insists Osama bin Laden & Co. have set up their world headquarters, the Indian connection would make sense.

Haskell concludes his account as follows:

"What also didn’t make the news is that we were held on the plane for 20 minutes after it landed! A bomb could have gone off then. This wasn’t too smart of security to not let us off the plane immediately.

"You can see what time I am writing this as I am having a hard time sleeping tonight. Just thought some of you would like to know what I saw, Merry Christmas."

A telling note of authenticity there: clueless bureaucrats keep him on a plane that might be about to explode, and a Merry Christmas to all – and to all a good night!

No wonder the poor guy couldn’t sleep. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t sleep for a week. And if, somehow, I did manage to take a cat nap or two, I’d dream of Umar being led onto the plane, passport-less, escorted by his mysterious helpers, including several demonic figures lurking in the background, chortling and rubbing their hands together in gleeful anticipation.

We are asked to believe that a highly privileged young man, with everything to live for, was suddenly seized with a desire to commit suicide as an act of jihad: that he disappeared from his life of ease, on a street lined with Mercedes Benzes and Ferraris, in a fashionable district of London, and traveled to Yemen, where he received what may have been a defective bomb, which was sewn into his underwear by his jihadist trainers. This bomb then went undetected in Amsterdam airport, where the security arrangements are said to be tight (and a personal interview is conducted), and where he was let on a plane headed for the US in spite of explicit warnings given by his own father.

I’m not buying it, and, furthermore, in the context of Haskell’s testimony, another narrative seems just as likely: that this was a staged incident, a false flag operation, launched by those who have everything to gain by ramping up the atmosphere of hysteria and fear that regularly precedes America’s wars. This – admittedly speculative – scenario, of which I am equally skeptical, is buttressed, however, by the testimony of Jasper Schuringa – the passenger who leapt out of his seat on the other side of the plane, put out the fire, and secured Umar in a headlock – who says of the alleged terrorist:

“He was shaking. He didn’t resist anything. It’s just hard to believe that he was trying to blow up this plane. He was in a trance. He was very afraid.”

He didn’t resist? This hardly seems like the behavior one might expect of some fanatic jihadist bent on destruction and meeting those virgins in the afterlife.

The simplistic narrative that took shape as the news broke is already beginning to break up into something a bit more complicated, as additional information comes out, including this brief news item that just came across the wires:

"A passenger aboard the same Northwest Airlines flight that was attacked on Christmas Day was taken into custody here Sunday after becoming verbally disruptive upon landing, officials said.

"A law enforcement official said the man was Nigerian and had locked himself in the airliner’s bathroom. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

"Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Susan Elliott said crew members requested that security remove the man from Flight 253 after he became disruptive. The remaining 255 passengers got off safely, she said.

"Airport spokesman Scott Wintner said it was the same flight on which a man tried to set off an explosive on Christmas Day.

"’The pilot requested emergency assistance upon arrival,’ he said. Security and airline personnel are on edge since the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day, and the law enforcement official said that lesser incidents had been reported on other flights arriving in Detroit, but the incident with the Nigerian man had sparked the most concern."

Whether Nigerian, or Indian, something is up here, and it seems to have little to do with al-Qaeda, which – breaking its past habit of promptly taking "credit" – has yet to claim responsibility for the attempted attack. More grounds for suspicion: allegations that the Detroit incident was planned and carried out by al-Qaeda in Yemen can be traced back to "IntelCenter," a mysterious private contractor with a dubious reputation [.pdf] (see frames 89-100) that does business with the intelligence community.

Another shoe is bound to drop – the arrest of this other "Nigerian" may be it, along with the surprising news that Detroit, for some reason, seems to be the latest "terrorist" target – and when it does, I’m wondering how much closer to the truth we’ll get. One thing is certain, however, and it is this: look on the pronouncements of government officials with a very jaundiced eye.

Already Joe Lieberman and several Republicans are calling for more preemptive strikes on targets in Yemen, and it’s not hard to see that the US is very close to opening up yet another "front" in our eternal "war on terrorism." Deeper into the quagmire we go – and those demons in my dreamscape are chortling ever louder.

Read more by Justin Raimondo