< link rel="DCTERMS.isreplacedby" href="http://bokertov.typepad.com/ btb/" >

Friday, July 16, 2004

Terror in the skies, again?

by Annie Jacobsen, in WomensWallStreet

Note from the Editors: You are about to read an account of what happened during a domestic flight that one of our writers, Annie Jacobsen, took from Detroit to Los Angeles. The WWS Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be shared. What does it have to do with finances? Nothing, and everything. Here is Annie's story.
On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son.  Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old.  What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.

On that Tuesday, our journey began uneventfully. Starting out that morning in Providence, Rhode Island, we went through security screening, flew to Detroit, and passed the time waiting for our connecting flight to Los Angeles by shopping at the airport stores and eating lunch at an airport diner. With no second security check required in Detroit we headed to our gate and waited for the pre-boarding announcement. Standing near us, also waiting to pre-board, was a group of six Middle Eastern men. They were carrying blue passports with Arabic writing. Two men wore tracksuits with Arabic writing across the back. Two carried musical instrument cases - thin, flat, 18 long. One wore a yellow T-shirt and held a McDonald's bag. And the sixth man had a bad leg -- he wore an orthopedic shoe and limped.  When the pre-boarding announcement was made, we handed our tickets to the Northwest Airlines agent, and walked down the jetway with the group of men directly behind us.
 
My four-year-old son was determined to wheel his carry-on bag himself, so I turned to the men behind me and said, You go ahead, this could be awhile. No, you go ahead, one of the men replied. He smiled pleasantly and extended his arm for me to pass. He was young, maybe late 20's and had a goatee.   I thanked him and we boarded the plan.

Once on the plane, we took our seats in coach (seats 17A, 17B and 17C). The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald's bag sat across the aisle from us (in seat 17E). The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few rows back and across the aisle from us (in seat 21E).  The rest of the men were seated throughout the plane, and several made their way to the back. 
 
As we sat waiting for the plane to finish boarding, we noticed another large group of Middle Eastern men boarding.  The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat in first class in seat 1A, the seat second-closet to the cockpit door.  The other seven men walked into the coach cabin.  As aware Americans, my husband and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable.  I noticed some of the other passengers paying attention to the situation as well.  As boarding continued, 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. I could tell that my husband was beginning to feel anxious.
 
The take-off was uneventful.  But once we were in the air and the seatbelt sign was turned off, the unusual activity began. 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.  Five minutes later, several more of the Middle Eastern men began using the forward lavatory consecutively. In the back, several of the men stood up and used the back lavatory consecutively as well.

For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time. Meanwhile, in the first class cabin, just a foot or so from the cockpit door, the man with the dark suit - still wearing sunglasses - was also standing.  Not one of the flight crew members suggested that any of these men take their seats.

Watching all of this, my husband was now beyond anxious.  I decided to try to reassure my husband (and maybe myself) by walking to the back bathroom.  I knew the goateed-man I had exchanged friendly words with as we boarded the plane was seated only a few rows back, so  I thought I would say hello to the man to get some reassurance that everything was fine. As I stood up and turned around, I glanced in his direction and we made eye contact.  I threw out my friendliest remember-me-we-had-a-nice-exchange-just-a-short-time-ago smile. The man did not  smile back.

There is much, much more.  In fact, it's probably so long that you should print it out to read it all. But do read it all.
 
Michelle Malkin confirms:
"Dave Adams of the Federal Air Marshals Service (FAM)...  confirmed that he spoke to Annie Jacobsen, was quoted accurately in her story, and confirmed some of the basic facts outlined in her article (there were 14 Syrians on the flight; they were questioned by the Los Angeles Police Department, FBI, FAM, and so on;"
while maintaining some healthy skepticism:
Building a bomb in mid-air using 14 operatives to take down one plane seems like a rather inefficient means of terrorism.

Make of it what you will.  Thanks to Katy for bringing this to our attention.