I dimly remembered that Mohammed Atta and at least three of his brothers (a big word in Islam) had been known to security agencies at least a year before 9/11 as "likely members of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States." This quote is from an August 9, 2005 article written by ace- investigator-of-intricate-matters Douglas Jehl for the New York Times. I also recall that, within days of the catastrophe, news seeped out that the terrorists who entered the airline network in Portland, Maine and then Boston made it past a watch list that should have functioned as a dragnet for them.
Well, apparently, the same thing was true with yesterday's Christmas terrorist. According to an Associated Press dispatch by Jim Irwin, "An official said the U.S. had known for at least two years" that the suspect--identified as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab--could have had terrorist ties and was on a list that includes people with known or suspected ties to a terrorist organization. One list being bruited about is said to have more than a half a million names. But this should be no obstacle to a computer and computer program.
The social profile of this man was, of course, hardly the one that the half-sympathetic explicators of terrorism project. Instead, his father, who happened to have been the chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, described a young man of 23 who lived in a "posh" neighborhood of London (the apartment was said to be worth $4 million) and was studying mechanical engineering at elite University College, London. According to Samuel Goldsmith of the N.Y. Daily News, family members told The Day, a Nigerian newspaper, that the father was stunned that his son was even allowed to fly.
Arthur Max, another writer for A.P., reports that the "US seeks global security stepup on US-bound travel." It's about time. For what were we waiting? The Northwest flight bound for Detroit began its journey in Amsterdam. But Abdul Mutallab began his travels in Lagos, a very dangerous place. For years, American airports displayed panels warning against going to Lagos.
TIME has an intriguing report by Stephen Gray on the "Detroit Terror Suspect: The Nigerian Connection." The would-be murderer of 278 passengers (plus staff), it is said, was trained in Yemen, a country in the vortex of jihadist Islam, where the Obama administration has sent prisoners from Guantanamo for rehabilitation and re-education. Fat chance. Nigeria itself is a hot-bed of religious fanaticism, both Christian and Muslim, to be fair. But the country is mostly Muslim and intolerantly Muslim. Recall 40 years ago the crucifixion of the Christian Ibos of Biafra. Gray poses the prospect of Nigeria becoming a rich recruiting ground for Al Qaeda.
But, of course, as someone commenting on the attempted mass killing observed, "Islam is a peaceful religion and does not encourage the killing of innocents."