There are some very strange elements emerging in reports of the attempted bombing of a Delta Airlines flight as it approached Detroit airport from Amsterdam on Christmas Day.
One is that the screening measures in place at major airports including those in Australia should have detected one or more of the components of the attack that was made by Nigerian national Abdul Farouk Abdulmulallab who is said to have boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam at Lagos, and then connected at Schiphol to the Detroit flight.
Those elements are reported to be the ‘chemicals’ he injected with a syringe into ‘powder’ strapped to the leg that is reported to have gone ‘pop’ and started burning a short distance from Detroit.
Chemicals, powder and a syringe!
Something seems to have gone very wrong at two airports.
The authorities involved in airline security world wide have a detailed knowledge of potentially explosive and hazardous substances and their chemical or molecular signatures. They look for and test for these things.
The personal details of all the non-US nationals on the inbound flight should also have been electronically registered with the American authorities for checking against watch lists of persons of potential security concern well before it took off from Amsterdam. (There are widespread doubts about the utility of such lists and checking processes.)
The passenger is claimed to have said he was told by Al Qaeda in Yemen to destroy the jet over American soil. Which it was over for at least several hours before the attack was foiled by other passengers.
In a statement this morning US authorities say there is no evidence that the young Nigerian had any links to a terrorist organisation.
In what sounds like a dumb statement, Air Canada is reported as ordering that all passengers must now remain seated for the last hour of any flight. It was a passenger leaping from his seat and wrestling the would be terrorist to the ground that may well have prevented real damage being done to the Delta flight.
This raises further issues with the use of armed sky marshals on flights. What, if marshals had been on board, would have been the point in their shooting a burning passenger? Or instinctively shooting anyone else who moved, including the passengers who jumped the would be terrorist?
These are difficult questions that might not be being posed today if this turns out to have been a failure of existing security procedures.