By Les Leba
This week, this column will take a break from its characteristic advocacy on the national economy and instead review the case of the young Nigerian, Farouk Muttalab who is currently facing trial in the United States for his failed attempt to blow up a US bound Trans Atlantic Aircraft flight on Christmas eve last year!
I must say, from the onset that the purpose of this article is not to defend or justify the antisocial and reckless trajectory of Faroukâ€™s young life.Â Instead, we suggest that we take a dispassionate view of what actually transpired in the last thirty minutes or so before Farouk was â€˜overpoweredâ€™ and apprehended by one or two fellow passengers on that flight!
It is possible that our scrutiny may reveal a more enduring spirit of love of self and humanity under the mask of the â€˜failed terroristâ€™ portrayed by the media.Â It may be reasonable therefore, for the U.S. authorities to consciously cooperate and take advantage of those opportunities presented by Muttalabâ€™s â€˜live arrestâ€™ to check the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and thereby promote advancement of both U.S. homeland and world peace and security.
The American authorities must be cautious that the predictable life term or long term jail sentence or indeed execution of Muttalab would not only turn Farouk into a martyr worthy of emulation by other young Islamic fundamentalist prospects, but may also make the U.S. to miss a great opportunity to enlist the young Nigerian in counter propaganda against terrorism, and suicide attacks and the deliberate promotion of Islam as a religion of peace among young Muslims.
So, let us begin by examining Faroukâ€™s arsenal for the December terror attack.Â We note that both local and international media identified the critical weapon as a powdery substance neatly sewn into Faroukâ€™s underpants.Â The relatively small size and novelty of the instrument of offence enabled the carrier to escape airport securities in Accra, Lagos and Amsterdam!
Nonetheless, the remote and secure packaging of the incendiary certainly meant that the final preparation and trigger of the explosive would require not only time, but also a covert environment to enable the bomb carrier take off his trousers and remove his pants before ripping off the powdered sachets from the base of his underwear, and then correctly assemble the gadgets before detonation.
Such a process, even for a well trained terrorist would be expected to take several minutes unlike the â€˜seconds in timeâ€™ detonation process that characterizes the usual suicide bombs.
Thus, it would be inconceivable that Farouk would have been instructed by his handlers to carry out such protracted detonation from his seat in the airplane in the full glare of fellow passengers, particularly those who shared his row of seats, who were most likely to be wide awake in readiness for landing with less than 30 minutes to go after a six hour long Trans Atlantic flight!
However, the aircraft toilet would have provided Farouk with the quiet, private and secure ambience to assemble his weapon of death and successfully detonate it!Â Media reports are that Farouk actually spent considerable time in the toilet before returning to his seat and covering himself with his blanket while he fumbled with substances which gave an offensive odour and created sparks like Xmas firecrackers!
A committed suicide bomber would be trained to avoid undue attention so as to have sufficient time to do the evil deed.Â This case of Farouk appears to have been different, as his every action after he left the toilet appeared designed to announce to everyone that â€œlook what I am supposed or about to do, someone, please stop me, as I really donâ€™t want to do itâ€.
Indeed, there is no report from the co-passengers that Farouk put up any committed resistance to forestall their intervention of his plot.Â There was no report of any fervent scream of â€˜Al Akbaâ€™, the usual signature of such fundamentalist suicide militants.Â Indeed, the man who sat next to Farouk in the airplane is reported to have alleged that the bomber must be an amateur terrorist, and that he seemed to be afraid!!
In retrospect, it would seem improbable that after presumably considerable indoctrinations and thoroughÂ training by top Al Qaeda instructors in Yemeni camps and other such locations, Farouk would still behave like an amateur on â€˜D’ day!
The reality may be that Farouk was not expected to set up and detonate his bomb from his seat!Â The toilet provided the right â€˜operation roomâ€™, but the forces of good nurtured in the young Nigerian from his family and cultural backgrounds triumphed over the latter forces of indoctrination and evil that Farouk became acquainted with in England and the Middle East in the last four years or so!
In the manner that Saul became transformed on the road to Damascus, so also I believe that Farouk met his own rebirth in the toilet of that Trans Atlantic flight.Â When Farouk left the toilet, he had already made up his mind that he could not kill innocent souls in the name of Jihad!
Indeed, if there had been an opportunity to isolate the suicide attack to just himself alone as the only fatality, most probably, Farouk would have done so to save face.Â In the absence of such possibility, the next best alternative would be to bungle the whole attack and invite attention to stop the bombing!
Thus, he would save everyone from the evil machinations of Al Qaeda, but he would take the rap, no matter the burden of execution or life term in jail.Â Well over 200 souls would have perished if Farouk took the Al Qaeda penalty kick, as he was destined to score with no â€˜goalkeeperâ€™ in sight!
The truth is that the authorities did not catch Farouk; he gave himself up, and saved the lives of people of various nationalities, and faiths in that plane!Â If he had gone ahead with the Al Qaeda plan, most probably, everyone in that plane would be lost and there would be no Farouk Muttalab to prosecute or jail anyway!
Indeed, if suicide militants know that they could be reprieved if they voluntarily gave themselves up rather than kill themselves and other innocent people, the world community would have stuck a pinhole in the balloon of such anti-world security organisations as Al Qaeda.
On the other hand, when a suicide bomber fails (deliberately or not) or willingly gives himself up, and knows that he would be rehabilitated as a sick patient and reintegrated into society with sustainable livelihood, such ex-militants could be invaluable apostles of peace and love amongst peoples and faith, and could also lead to the demystification of the vain promises of martyrdom as an attraction to gullible youths all over the world.
Of course, Al Qaeda would be very disappointed at Faroukâ€™s failure, but they obviously understand the game of propaganda much better than the Americans.Â They have quickly put a spin to Faroukâ€™s failure and choralled it as a huge success!!
The import, of course, is clear; it is obviously an attempt to reach out to Farouk in detention to give him false assurance that they see him as a hero, and hope that Farouk would not reveal all he knows about this militant Islamic group and thereby compromise the security of their locations, instructors and tactics!Â In addition, Al Qaedaâ€™s assurances to Farouk are necessary to provide succor to other would be Al Qaeda trained suicide bombers that they would not be abandoned if they fell into â€˜perceived enemy handsâ€™ like Muttalab did!
Any army with predominantly suicide bombers as foot soldiers will always be difficult to defeat and will also be very expensive to prosecute with a regular army and tactics.
However, a more plausible reaction to combat such suicide armies is to catch the foot soldiers young with counter propaganda and direct collaboration with religious and opinion leaders in potentially volatile and susceptible countries before Al Qaeda reaches these youths with their pie in the sky exhortations and other such mind-twisting education.
Farouk Muttalab could be a very potent weapon in the arsenal for world peace if the young man is cleverly cultivated to reach out to disgruntled and deprived youths all over the world!Â Fortunately, he did not spill any innocent blood before he â€œgave himself up!â€
However, Americaâ€™s knee jerk reaction to the Christmas eve failed bomb attack has resulted in frenzied installations of scanners in increasing number of airports, and some countries such as Nigeria have been included in the U.S. list of countries of interest which means that the people and passengers on flights from such listed countries would be subject to â€˜intimate scrutinyâ€™.
Indeed, the cost of flying can only continue to rise and contract transportation and tourism potentials with adverse impact on employment and personal liberty with the increasing security needs of airports and aircrafts.Â In the end, it will be clear to all that such security enhancement may be never ending and it may just be much simpler and very much less expensive to join the propaganda war with such converted lieutenants as Farouk Muttalab!
It also seems self defeatist to announce a list of a dozen countries for special attention at airports.Â Indeed, with such overt announcement, Al Qaeda and all suicide bombers know what country passports and airports to avoid, and as things stand, they have the possibilities of over 300 other countries worldwide to choose from!
I recognize that Nigerians have been up in arms against inclusion in the list of countries of interest, but it is difficult to see how President Obama could have ignored us!
With Nigeriaâ€™s already battered international image, particularly as a result of 419, corruption in public administration and its role in the drug route to the U.S., airport security worldwide have already subjected Nigerians to closer scrutiny over the last 10 years, and I doubt whether the situation could get much worse!Â Anyway, if the formal inclusion of Nigeria in the â€˜terror listâ€™ will make flying safer for everybody, so then be it!
However, we must recognize that the reason why countries like the U.K. where Farouk was recruited is outside the terror list is because of the fairly comprehensive, committed and continuously evolving strategies of the U.K. in the war against terrorism.
I have no doubt that if our government is serious about putting our house in order, we do not have to go begging before we are delisted from the list of countries of interest.
Meanwhile, we have Farouk Muttalab to be thankful to, for deliberately flunking the Xmas eve bomb attack and alerting the world of Al Qaedaâ€™s positioning with new weapons of war before other suicide bombers ever scored any success with their powder bombers.Â Â Farouk may have consequently saved thousands of innocent lives.
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!