Christmas season has been reasonably peaceful in America, but has not been joyous for millions who are suffering through the hard times. It could have been worse. On Christmas Day, a wealthy Nigerian student tried to set off a lethal explosive device on a flight that was within twenty minutes of landing in Detroit, Michigan. He did manage to burn his groin area (where the explosive was taped) and set fire to a small part of the wall of the plane. But the heroic action of a young Dutch passenger, then assisted by others on the plane, prevented a disaster. Video producer Jasper Schuringa burned his hand, as he jumped over four rows of seats, cornered the terrorist, and worked to put out the fire. He was later applauded by the other 300 passengers, whose lives he probably saved.
Two days later, there was the same fear on a flight taking the same route. It was also called NW Flight 253. But, the incident appears to have been caused by a passenger who was genuinely ill, and not just trying to assemble an explosive device in the toilet.
The 23 year old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been traveling often between the U.K, Yemen, the United States, and other countries. He reportedly received jihadist training from Al Qaeda associates. His father is a respected banker in Nigeria. He went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, to report concerns about his son's "radicalization and associations," according to the Washington Post. He was placed on a "watch list" with several thousand others, but was not placed on a "do not fly" list. In fact, he was granted a two year visa to the United States.
There are so many questions surrounding this near - disaster: why was he allowed on the plane in the first place and how did he get 80 grams of dangerous chemicals and powder on with him? What kept it from exploding before, on the nine hour flight? Are more such plots like this in the planning? How can they be prevented? Why is the United States hated so, in some quarters? (That question can be debated for years.)
Whatever the answers, air travel will now be even more complex and frightening than before. President Obama - on "holiday" in Hawaii, has been holding numerous conference calls. He made a public statement on Monday, about the terrorists, and about the exploding violence in Iran. The president vowed to go after Al Qaeda in Yemen, or wherever else they are operating. This means Afghanistan and Pakistan will no longer be the dual most important focuses of the war. Al Qaeda in Yemen has already boasted of its role in the attempt on the airline.
More such incidents are anticipated. There is likely to be a change in the "no fly" lists, and more people will be prevented from entering the country. Of course, that does not prevent homegrown terrorists from preventing their atrocities, as were the cases in Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Fort Hood, and other places where mass tragedies occurred on American soil by US residents.
As the New Year dawns, many of us are concerned about the future. But 2009 was been a troubled year. In fact, it has been a troubled decade. The best we can do is pray for peace and well being, for the people of the United States, and for the world.
Try to have a Happy New Year - Connie Lawn
(Connie has been covering the White House and the world since 1968).