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Fri, Apr 08, 2005

Aero-Views: Security Scare? No, Scared Flyer.

But The Other Guy Ought To Scare Everybody...

By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien

Internet message boards for the last few days have seethed with a story of British Airways Flight 215 -- service from London Heathrow (ELHR) to Boston Logan (KBOS) -- on Sunday, April 3rd. Was a terrorist on board? Is there a cover-up in the works? The truth is a lot more simple than that -- but finding the truth led us to a real would-be suicide bomber who's case isn't getting the coverage it deserves.

The claim that has agitated the fever swamps of the net is that a "middle-eastern-looking" passenger was removed from the flight by security men with automatic weapons, and then the flight was delayed for five hours. Yet there was nothing on it in ordinary news outlets. That's where we come in. Was it true? Where did it come from?

The Source Of The Story

Second question first. It turns out that the net debate seems to have been stirred up by this post on the blog Cynical Nation. Barry N. Johnson, whose brother-in-law was on the plane, posted the information his brother was able to learn on the blog.

"It seems his plane was stormed by agents with machine guns, who seized a Middle Eastern passenger from my brother-in-law's row and removed him from the plane.

This is happening as I type this. The wonders of modern technology. More to follow, no doubt...." Johnson posted Sunday afternoon. And indeed, more followed. "Multiple passengers were removed from the plane by force. My brother-in-law is now off the plane as well, but he has been herded into some special area at Heathrow...."

After going through several iterations of delays, the passengers finally were allowed to reboard -- minus the initial one carted off by MI-5 or whomever -- about five hours behind schedule.

The good news is, all the engines were running.

Meanwhile, speculation was running wild, on FreeRepublic, LittleGreenFootballs, and other popular sites that linked to Johnson's blog, as well as in the deep recesses of conspiracy theory.

The Airline Tells Its Story

So, we called British Airways and did get a call back from BA spokesman John Lampl. And as Lampl explained it, the whole story came into clear focus, including how it could have looked like it did to Johnson's brother-in-law.

According to Lampl, as the door closed a passenger got upset and demanded to be left off the plane. Police came and took him along for questioning, but he was the furthest thing possible from a suicide terrorist -- the poor guy was simply afraid to fly. His brother, who doesn't share his phobia, was traveling with him.

I've heard experienced captains talk about incidents like this before, and occasionally you encounter a story of a timid flyer who flees from the terminal and abandons a flight that ultimately crashes, so they're out there.

With the passenger off the plane, and not going to fly, the airline had to find and remove his luggage, which took considerable time.

The other passengers -- including the brother -- resumed their flight to Boston about five hours late. The crew was able to make up about an hour enroute, so arrival was delayed some four hours.

After a brief investigation that confirmed the bona fides of the frightened passenger, he was released by the Metropolitan Police. So that's the explanation -- for Barry Johnson, his brother-in-law, and anybody curious about that.

Lampl said that neither the police nor the airline would release the passenger's name. After all, he's committed no crime, although he inconvenienced a lot of people. It's hard not to feel sorry for anybody so paralyzed by fear as that.

And Then, There's This Story

While it's easy to see why most of the news media didn't cover BA Flight 215 -- after all, nothing happened that doesn't happen somewhere in the world on a weekly basis -- it's a little bit harder to see why the US media haven't picked up the story of the dramatic Old Bailey trial that resulted from an earlier BA flight, from Caracas, Venezuela to Gatwick on February 13, 2003, and the events that resulted when a routine customs search found an American M26 hand grenade (a Vietnam-era weapon) in Hazil Rahaman-Alan's checked luggage.

The grenade was concealed in the transformer of a knee massager.

Rahaman-Alan entered a guilty plea to charges stemming from the incident, and he has made a variety of unusual statements. According to Nicholas Dean, QC, the prosecutor, "He said the grenade would be his microphone to the world" and planned to conduct some type of suicide bombing.

Just not on the plane.

The would-be bomber also said he wanted to help humanity and the children of the world (with a grenade?), and Dean said he didn't stop there. "At one point he said he wished to help improve airport security."

When your phone doesn't ring, Mr Rahaman-Alan, that will be the TSA not calling you for help.

Most of the stories in the British press mention that Hazil Rahaman-Alan is a Venezualan citizen, but if you read enough of them, you realize that his family's real roots are in Saudi Arabia. His father, who is deceased, was a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Caracas. Rahaman-Alan had studied in a Saudi madrassa, and was described as extremely religious, but he denies any connection to terrorism.

Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and all of them were adherents of the radical, (often) violent Wahabbi sect of Islam that is taught in the madrassas there.

It's hard to form any conclusions about Rahaman-Alan, except that, if he is a terrorist, his masters must be getting close to the bottom of the barrel. He had been ripped off by the black marketeer who sold him the grenade: while he thought that he had a live weapon, an examination by British experts revealed that it wouldn't have functioned, having the detonator removed and the explosive filling replaced with an inert material.

If he'd just held off till this week -- British was one of the first airlines to return deadly weapons to the cabin. Yes, you now get a metal fork with an inflight meal.



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