What the Near-Tragedy in Detroit Revealed – by Daniel Pipes


The near-success of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, to set off an explosive on Christmas Day should open the American public’s eyes to the sad state of counterterrorism eight years after 9/11.

The incident involved a Nigerian in Seat 19A – ideally placed over the fuel tanks, atop the wing, and next to the exterior of the aircraft – of Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. As summarized by the Wall Street Journal, it

happened as the Airbus 330-300 carrying 289 people was approaching Detroit. Mr. Abdulmutallab went to the plane’s restroom for about 20 minutes, and upon returning to his seat he stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself, according to the Justice Department complaint. As the flight was heading for a landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport before noon, the complaint alleges, Mr. Abdulmutallab set off the device. Passengers heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odor, and some observed Mr. Abdulmutallab’s pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire.

Subsequent investigations learned that the plot was organized and launched by Al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen, who arranged for 80 grams of PETN (pentaerythritol) to be sewed into Abdulmutallab’s underwear. Investigators concluded that only a chance malfunction prevented the explosives from bringing down the Northwest plane.

Umar Farouk’s father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, former chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria and one of his country’s most prominent businessmen, recently went to the U.S. embassy in Abuja to warn about his son’s “radicalization and associations,” prompting American officialdom to place the son on a terror watch list of about 550,000 names, the Terrorist Screening Data Base. But they did not place him on the list of about 15,000 individuals who must go through additional screening, much less the list of about 4,000 people on the “no-fly” list, who are not allowed to fly to or in the United States. Nor did they revoke Abdulmutallab’s two-year, multi-entry tourist visa. Nor did an air marshal accompany his flight.

Despite these multiple failures, Janet Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, astonishingly claimed that the system “worked really very, very smoothly” in Detroit. This myopia increases my worries about U.S. law enforcement. In fact, had the system worked, Abdulmutallab would never have entered the airplane, much less set off an explosive device.

Looking ahead, the Transportation Security Administration has issued an emergency order requiring travelers headed for the United States to undergo a “thorough pat-down” at the boarding gate, with a focus on the upper legs and torso and an inspection of carry-on baggage, with a focus on syringes. During the final hour on all U.S. flights, passengers must remain seated, may not access carry-on baggage or keep personal item in their laps.

More delights may follow, reports the New York Times: “Overseas passengers will be restricted to only one carry-on item aboard the plane. … On one flight, from Newark Airport, flight attendants kept cabin lights on for the entire trip instead of dimming them for takeoff and landing. … All carry-on items would be screened at security checkpoints and again at boarding. … In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all.”

As Phyllis Chesler plaintively asks, “Are we all going to be subjected to underwear checks before boarding our flights? If so, Al-Qaeda will soon secrete explosives in body cavities. Will we all be searched there as well?”

In other words, because U.S. security agencies refuse to take the sensible precaution of concentrating their resources on the small target pool of suspects, namely Muslims, about 1 percent of the population, hundreds of millions of passengers must bear the burden of extra cost, inconvenience, and loss of privacy.

The Detroit abruptly renders invalid several aphorisms I honed over recent years:

  • Had U.S. law enforcement devoted the attention to the 9/11 plotters that it has since given to counterterrorism, 9/11 would never have taken place.
  • While Sudden Jihad Syndrome by isolated individuals remains beyond the abilities of American institutions to stop (viz., the Ft. Hood shooter last month), terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda are well under surveillance.
  • Government authorities have terrorism under control, so we private analysts can focus instead on the non-violent forms of radical Islam known variously as “stealth jihad,” “creeping Shari‘a,” “lawful Islamism,” or “Islamism 2.0.”

The Northwest incident takes me back to 9/11 itself, when I wrote a bitter analysis how the U.S. government had “grievously failed in its topmost duty to protect American citizens from harm.” That failure continues.

What size disaster must occur to inspire a serious approach to counterterrorism?

  • http://www.learn-yoga.co.uk/ Beginner yoga

    Stop terrorism..!!!

  • Robert Bernier

    Every American should see this video !

    The ambition of Islam to conquer the world.
    For centuries Islam of the militants have been on the march to conquer the world. We did not notice because we chose not to notice. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in
    1920 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt and was in deep confrontation with the Egyptian government. The current goals for Islam to achieve global domination for a Muslim Caliphate: a world under strict Islamic “Sharia” law, pulling Muslims back to the 7th Century. Consult : http://xrl.us/bf66jj

  • bubba4

    “The near-success of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, to set off an explosive on Christmas Day should open the American public’s eyes to the sad state of counterterrorism eight years after 9/11.”

    You all manage to never mention Bush's name is any article where criticism would flow backwards….it's just the time before Obama. I not surprised by the amnesia, since Daniel Pipes spent most of Bush years kissing the establishment's ass and pushing us to war in Iraq. Yeah, that worked out real good Daniel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebecca-Moulds/851199665 Rebecca Moulds

    This incident proves all too true that there is very little we can do to protect ourselves 100% from terrorism, especially while flying. However, El-Al does a very good job of protecting passengers on flights to and from Israel;perhaps US airlines can learn a few lessons. Changing rules to only one carry-on isn't going to solve the problems—education and more awareness are in order, and perhaps there will have to be more profiling of certain individuals of certain religious beliefs. One does ask where the intelligence was? There is certainly something lacking in the system. We innocent people should not be frightened that we will all have to be strip-searched before flying, because that is not the solution.

  • Krusader

    Americans should have been fearful when Janet Napalitano first accepted the job as homeland sucurity secretary. For that is when the the true threat to this country was announced to be honorable war vets, tea party protesters, and generally anyone that had a peaceful disagreement with the Obama administration. There will be more Sudden Jihad Syndrome incidents because Homeland Security is surveilling the wrong people.

  • ciccio

    What this does reveal is that racial and religious profiling is absolutely essential. Fortunately the Muslims cooperate in this respect, they have relatively few names and are therefor identified all the easier.

    In short, if you are Muslim or an Arab or from a Muslim country, search is essential.

  • Elizabeth

    Please understand, I am no fan of Bush. Every time I heard him mouth those ridiculous words about Islam being a peaceful religion, I had to run from the room with my fingers in my ears shouting: lalalalalal.

    That being said, however, Bush hasn't been in office for nearly a year. This is Obama's problem to fix and he's only made it worse by putting Napolitano in charge of Homeland Security.

  • Concerned Christian

    Under the circumstances, perhaps we need to accommodate all those who MUST travel by air for whatever reason in new ways. “Muslim only flights” and “Muslim-free flights” have a rather nice ring.

    Just an observation…

  • Elizabeth

    Searching Muslims and Arabs makes perfect sense, but here we are in a make-believe world where absolutely anyone can be a terrorist. What a nightmare modern life is!

  • Elizabeth

    Muslim only flights! Love it!

  • Nemesister

    That stupid bitch, Napolitano, should resign NOW.

  • Mo

    In case you missed the memo, President Bush is no longer in office.

  • josephwiess

    Racial profiling is indeed needed. Obviously if the dude is on the terrorist watchlist, then he should not be allowed on any airplane, period.

  • maryann

    I was just thinking about that great idea posted earlier about muslim only airlines.
    Problem is the planes will be flown by Muslim pilots, need I say more!

  • http://markgold.wordpress.com/ Mark

    Janet: 'system “worked really very, very smoothly”' — anyone remember, “Brownie, you're doing a great job”? She makes Brown look like he walked on water.

    What also didn't work so great was the American people electing these clowns.

  • Rob

    And obama!

  • Calvin Arminius

    “We love death more than you love Life” Major Nidal Malik Hasan
    How does one negotiate with a religion that teaches death and deceit to further their quest of world conquest?

    There is a saying “A conservative is just a liberal that's been mugged.”

    To the simple minded naive voter that put Obama into power believing that a “community organizer”, would be able to talk the religiously inspired homicidal leaders of Iran out of nuclear weapons, your being mugged. Wake up, open your eyes and view these terrorists acts as an opportunity to change things before the dunderhead politically correct drag us into the abyss. As distasteful as profiling may be it is a sensible and needed in order to prevent future terrorist acts.

    Our freedom and survival is at stake.

  • thinker1

    Incompitano is crazy…somebody call those strong dudes from loony bin….She belongs to a White Room (padded, no knobs)
    “System worked”???? So she is black, Bama is white with red stripes, and we ARE geting to be USSA….oops, the last one is a fact. :—[

  • thinker1

    Finally, some truth from Bama – “I'm a muslim”:


  • LindaRivera

    Why was he not placed on a U.S. No Fly List? That’s not hard to figure out. Washington do not regard Muslim terrorists as the enemy. Patriotic, peaceful Americans – pro-lifers, tea party attendees, returning war veterans who risked their lives for America have been listed as the ones to watch out for.

    U.S. Muslim terrorist training camps that teach murder of non-Muslims and violent Islamic conquest of America are allowed. God help America.

    ‘Chilling’ new video: How to slit throats
    Jihad maneuvers taught at New York compound
    December 15, 2009

    By Bob Unruh
    © 2009 WorldNetDaily

    A new video released by the Christian Action Network shows Muslim women at a compound in New York state practicing throat-slitting techniques and assault weapons attacks.

    The video was distributed by the makers of the movie “Homegrown Jihad: The Terrorist Camps Around the U.S.,” which documents how a jihadist group has developed dozens of training camps across the nation.

    WND reported at the time how Jamaat ul-Fuqra has built 35 compounds – mostly in the northeastern corridor of the U.S.

    …The U.S. State Department’s 1998 “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report notes the organization “seeks to purify Islam through violence.”

    The report continued, “Members have purchased isolated rural compounds in North America to live communally, practice their faith and insulate themselves from Western culture. Fuqra members have attacked a variety of targets that they view as enemies of Islam.”

    CAN, led by Martin Mawyer, has researched Muslims of America for years and has provided its video to the FBI, State Department and Homeland Security. To date, there has been no response from the government, the group said.

    …”Gilani has stated he is preparing his members to the Soldiers of Allah, and he’s set up the most advanced guerrilla warfare training camps,” he said.

    The organization’s “Homegrown Jihad” video includes a chilling scene of Jamaat ul-Fuqra’s leader Sheikh Mubarak Gilani telling followers to “act like you’re his friend. Then kill him.”

    According to the Religion of Peace website, there have been more than 250 jihad attacks by Muslims around the globe – including two inside the U.S. – in just the last two months.The death toll from the attacks has surpassed 1,400, the report says.

    New MOA Terror Training Video Exposed

  • LindaRivera

    America Betrayed: Jihadists are winning because of pro-Islam Western leaders. U.S. Airport Security Deliberately and Shockingly Destroyed for Islam:

    Controversial Muslim group
    gets VIP airport security tour
    Feds show CAIR latest screening steps,
    sensitive counterterrorism procedures
    August 18, 2006

    The Department of Homeland Security
    took a Muslim group with known past ties to terror organizations on a VIP tour of security operations at the nation's busiest airport at the same time British authorities were working to break up a plot to blow up U.S. airlines.

    On June 21, a senior DHS official from Washington personally guided Muslim officials from the Council on American-Islamic Relations on a behind-the-scenes tour of Customs screening operations at O'Hare International Airport in response to CAIR complaints that Muslim travelers were being unfairly delayed as they entered the U.S. from abroad.

    CAIR is a spin-off of the Islamic Association for Palestine, identified by two former FBI counterterrorism chiefs as a “front group” for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

    Several CAIR leaders have been convicted on terror-related charges.

    During the airport tour, CAIR was taken on a walk through the point-of-entry, Customs stations, secondary screening and interview rooms. In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents were asked to describe for CAIR representatives various features of the high-risk passenger lookout system.

  • LindaRivera

    One talkbacker commented: “Discriminate or Die.” We have no other choice.

  • thinker1

    Why Israelis have no plane bombings? They profile – every look-like a terrorist is strip-searched. Don't like it? You don't fly.

  • Sylvia Scott

    A good friend of mine, a veteran, once told me: “There are only 3 things people understand- 1) money, 2) a gun, and, 3) a sock in the face.” With increasing terrorism in mind, I say he's right. No use in wasting time talking to these people, simply take them out. That is the only thing they understand. Let's speak their language clearly to them.

  • SpiritOf1683

    It looks like these planes will have to be flown by infidel pilots with the cockpit separated from the passengers by sturdy bulletproof and airtight locking doors, with the pilots themselves armed, and able to control vents that can release nitrous oxide into the passenger compartment should trouble start. Alternatively, ban Muslims from flying.

  • CowboyUp

    Where have you been for the past 8 years? FPM columnists have been rightly faulting President Bush for failing to adopt the sensible Israeli air security approach of looking for terrorists, as soon as this PC nonsense cropped up after 9/11.

    Oh, and bubba, it did work out in Iraq, saddam and the Iraqi bath party won't be bothering anybody anymore. Hussein has the easy part there, if he doesn't scr*w it up too.

  • CowboyUp

    Israel spends more time and effort looking for terrorists than bombs and weapons.

  • fireside smoke

    Profile…Profile…Profile. That P.C. crap will get people killed. Here we look for bombs. Israel looks for terrorists.

  • josephwiess

    Crap, if they are on the list, then don't let them in. That's like letting pedophile that lives down the street, babysit your child.

  • josephwiess

    They won't resign, we need to impeach them, along with the Democrats/socialist in congress, and the DHS people, and the TSA people.

  • frednerk

    Al,cia,da strikes again.The US will use this manufactured incident to justify the bombing of Yemmen,how very convenientI, wonder what sort of incident they have planned for Venezuella now that they have signed an oil deal with China.

  • Mo

    Manufactured? Where's your evidence of any such thing?

    Learn how to spell and write proper sentences while you're at it.

  • USMCSniper

    Adapted by me from the movie “Swordfish”

    Anyone who impinges on America's freedom such as terrorist states and their proxies. Someone must bring their war to them. They bomb a church, we bomb 10 mosques. They hijack a plane, we take out one of their airports. They execute American tourist, we tactically nuke an entire muslim city. Our job should be to makethe cost of jihadist terrorism so horrific that is becomes unthinkable to attack Americans because of the consequences.

  • Elizabeth

    Does it make you feel clever to be such a contrarian?

  • Ramius

    I work in the counter-terrorism field. You have no idea just how bad it really is. Do you think this is an isolated incident of an individual with terrorist ties being allowed to come and go freely? There are hundreds, if not thousands of people from Islamic countries, whom the FBI has identified as having ties to really bad people, and yet the state department gives them visas. The FBI as an organization works under ridiculous guidelines. Agents constantly fight battles with ICE (the second most useless organization in the govt), State Department (number one with a bullet), and FBI HQ, over the status of these people. It is not unusual for a person who spouts anti-US rhetoric, who has deep ties with terrorists, to be granted admission to the US. Our intel organizations become aware of this and ask State not to grant visas, State does it anyway. They then ask ICE to deport them, ICE isn't allowed to, or doesn't want to. They ask for permission to investigate these folks and HQ wants to know if the bad guy has actually acted on any of his violent rhetoric (because we wouldn't want to infringe on anyone's first amendment rights, even of they are a foreigner and don't neccesarily have those rights). Then when Johnny Jihadi tries to blow something up, everyone points a finger at the agent who originally realized this was a threat, and want to know why he didn't do something.

  • LindaRivera

    It is clearly government policy to allow Muslim terrorists into America. What a dreadful betrayal of the American people!

  • Cabby – AZ

    Our government's attitude to this Flt 253 near-disaster, is indeed appalling!
    Answer two questions: (1) Why was the Pres. not notified until three hours
    after the incident? (2) Why did it take him three DAYS to make a six-min.
    statement to the American people? DEPLORABLE!!!! Having heard him
    many times over the last eighteen months, I realize that his words are
    mostly meaningless, no matter how “tough” he tries to make them. Actions
    speak louder than words.

  • kevinrafferty

    When this kind of lunacy at Heathrow applies, the terrorists ahve won.


  • VivaLaMigra

    The really sad part is that it'll take a mass death – 200 or more aboard a downed airliner…before those who bear blind allegiance to The Messiah wake up. Dozens killed, maimed, and wounded by the terrorist at Fort Hood? Naw..never happened.

    A decisive executive would have flown back to DC that night, and had Janet Napolitano's resignation waiting for him on his desk. There is no accountability in this so-called “administration” – these hacks should be nowhere near a cabinet-level position.

  • garyrose