Terrorism: December 24, 2001


On December 23rd, a man on a flight from Paris to Miami was subdued by passengers as he attempted to light a fuze for plastic explosives hidden in his running shoes. The man, a Moslem thought to be from Britain (via Pakistan) or Sri Lanka (which is about eight percent Moslem), was questioned by French security personnel at the Paris airport, and missed his original flight. He was allowed to catch the next available flight. His shoes were not checked, even though there had recently been a warning bulletin about terrorists attempting to use explosives in shoes. If this fellow is al Qaeda, it does indicate that the terrorist organization is short of manpower, or at least short of individuals willing to undertake high risk suicide missions. The "shoe bomb" may have been able to blow a hole in the hull of the aircraft (depending on how much explosive was in the shoes and how it was arranged), and created explosive decompression of the passenger cabin. This could (but was unlikely to) have destroyed the aircraft. At the very least, it would have created some deaths and many injuries. The man may not have been al Qaeda, as he did not follow the training the terrorist organization provides instructing terrorists to be as inconspicuous as possible. The tall, pony tailed suspect clearly stood out. The suspect may be an individual, acting on his own from whatever information he was able to obtain. The plastic explosives are not that difficult to get if you have contact with the criminal underground. But at this point, al Qaeda would be eager to undertake any kind of operation to show that they are still a deadly threat. Keep in mind that terrorist organizations are never as large as the popular imagination (or media descriptions) has them. But it only takes a few people to carry out an operation. Al Qaeda is a loosely organized operation, with the many cells, or even individuals, able to operate independently. 


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