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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day Attack on Northwest Flight 253: The Nigerian and Europe Connection

Has Al Qaida now spread to Africa? A Nigerian suicide bomber would be a first. The evidence points in that direction. If so, what can be done about Africa being used to launch a terrorist attack on the U.S.?

It was an American Northwest Flight No. 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. But the suspect who tried to destroy it on yesterday’s Christmas Day flight boarded in Lagos, Nigeria – not the Middle East. He used a device similar to what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, used. Reports are that he claims to have gotten the device in Yemen. Fortunately, the device failed and passengers and crew sprang into action – the real heroes in action.

Authorities claim the Christmas flight terrorist was a “lone wolf.” Since when does someone go to Yemen for a bomb and act “alone.” Al Qaida has been building a base in Yemen, and that is connected to international terrorism. But a bigger threat than Yemen is – London! The suspect once lived in London, which is now regarded as where the largest numbers of radical Islamists are living. Why London? What can be done about it?

I know this: even a “lone wolf” who tries to kill is connected to radical terrorism. He was influenced either by an organization spreading hate on the Internet or in London’s streets. Radicalism is a global virus potentially more dangerous than H1N1. It is being spread 24/7 on the Internet. The time has come to see if the “Wild West” Internet should have some international oversight that can block hate websites. But Internet recruiting is being presented like hip hop, sort of a “jihad cool” that generates anger by showing attacks on Muslims as injustice that should be defended. That could also have led to this attack.

I have been to Lagos, London and Amsterdam, not as a tourist but as an international negotiator on major projects. It was on a project in Amsterdam a few years ago that I discovered a multi-million dollar international fraud ring being run, in Europe, by a Nigerian criminal organization (at which point things got very serious, but that’s another story). Nigeria is a country split between two religions: Islam in the North and Christians in the South. Al Qaida would love to dominate the country – and its vast oil reserves. It doesn’t have to be there to recruit. It can do so on the Internet.

Al Qaida seems to have gotten a foothold in the west – i.e. London—from which it can recruit radicals from the third world – and use the lax security in places like Lagos, Nigeria to get into a Europe, a jump point for flights bound to the U.S. In Nigeria, bribing a security official to get cleared is almost routine –and demonstrates how the weakest link in the international security system can be exploited by suicide bomber on a flight. Secondary screening in Amsterdam was not sufficient either.

Al Qaida has a fixation on blowing up aircraft, starting with its attempt to blow up a dozen flights over the Pacific in the mid-90’s. Why didn’t the security checks work in both Lagos and Amsterdam? Why has England become the biggest centerpoint outside the Middle East of extremist Islamic sympathizers? Why can’t we attack-- and shut down -- the Internet sites used by radical Islamists?

The bigger question is how to prevent future attacks like this. The first thing we need to do is deny radicals a western base. If London has become a breeding ground for Islamist radicals to build their networks and explosive technology –and to launch attacks on the United States -- U.S. authorities need to work with the British government to do what can be done to imprison or expel them. We need to deny radicals a European base to recruit suicide bombers from the third world to terrorize innocent people like those on the Christmas Day Northwest flight –which occurred 8 years to the month that Richard Reid attempted his shoe bombing. Just coincidence? We need to insist that security screenings of passengers from places like Nigeria be screened again in Europe before boarding U.S. flights. We need to improve screening procedures and technology. We need to start a 24/7 Internet defense strategy.

The passengers on Northwest 253 got lucky. If the suspect’s technology had worked, we would have lost that plane in mid-air and not known what happened. Fortunately, the device failed to create the disaster intended. We have to stay ahead of the terrorists, and that will take even more international cooperation and coordination.

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