Friday, July 16, 2004

terrorist jokers

By now, you've probably read this article about fourteen suspicious-acting Arab men on a US domestic flight (from Michelle Malkin). I'd like to focus on a few details:
...we watched as, one by one, most of the Middle Eastern men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something...
The man in the yellow T-shirt got out of his seat and went to the lavatory at the front of coach -- taking his full McDonald's bag with him. When he came out of the lavatory he still had the McDonald's bag, but it was now almost empty. He walked down the aisle to the back of the plane, still holding the bag. When he passed two of the men sitting mid-cabin, he gave a thumbs-up sign. When he returned to his seat, he no longer had the McDonald's bag...
Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his carry-on in the overhead bin. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the cabin with the object...
Suddenly, seven of the men stood up -- in unison -- and walked to the front and back lavatories. One by one, they went into the two lavatories, each spending about four minutes inside.
I picked these out because they are the hardest to explain as innocent. And of course the totality of all suspicious behavior cannot be explained innocently.

There has been some speculation that this was a dry run, or that it was an event that was called off. I think it is unlikely that it was an event that was called off. If they had actually been doing anything in the bathrooms, it could hardly have been hidden from investigators. I also doubt that it was a dry run because it was just too obvious. If they had been trying out a plane-takeover technique, they would have been more subtle. There would have been no making eye contact and nodding. There would have been no thumbs-up or throat-slashing gestures; the signs would be unrecognizable. There would have been no congregating except just before the attack.

These cartoon-terrorist activities suggest the most likely explanation: a practical joke. Fourteen Arab men traveling together on an American plane. It probably seemed like a great opportunity to screw those Americans. Maybe they even hoped to get some publicity for their band.

It wouldn't be the first time this has happened. Shortly after 9/11, a woman called police about two Arab men talking in a restaurant in a sinister way. The press predictably made her out to by a hysterical racist, but it was pretty clear that they deliberately provoked her.

I suspect this situation is similar. I also wonder whether what the men did was not criminal and/or actionable. There were certainly terrified people on that plane. If several passengers would confirm the activities I quoted above, a jury could very well believe that it was deliberate. If so, I believe it meets the definition of assault. And even if it does not, they caused deliberate pain and suffering to a bunch of strangers for no reason other than their own pleasure. It that's the case, I expect they could win in civil court as well.

What would be the effects of either case? I think they would get a lot of media attention. Much of the media would no doubt paint the accusers as hysterical racists. But on the other hand, it would bring Pineta's suicidal policies into the spotlight for the election. It would be nice to have one or more presidential candidate go on record for effective terrorist profiling.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing doubts the truth of the story. He has some good points, but I think he is comparing witness statements about a very quick and surprising event with a witness statement about a long and drawn-out event. There really isn't that much detail for four hours of frightened observing. Also, the reporter probably conferred with her husband on details, so we are getting the union of two witness statements. And finally, some of the most unlikely-sounding stuff (the conversations with the stewardess) would have to come from the husband.

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