December 25, 2009: Underwear Bomber Fails to Blow Up Plane

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A Brief History

On December 25, 2009 one of the most bizarre terrorist plots to destroy an airliner and its passengers failed when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was unable to get his bomb hidden in his underwear to explode.

Digging Deeper

The 23 year old Nigerian man was educated at the University College in London, England and had earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 2008.  He attempted to further his education with classes toward a Master’s degree at Wollongong University in Dubai.  Unfortunately, this son of one of the richest men in Nigeria squandered his education by becoming a radicalized Islamist terrorist, influenced by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group that masterminded the 9/11 attacks.  Umar was known to Western intelligence agencies as a possible threat due to his habit of posting his feelings on the internet, including talking about his sexual frustration at length.  It seems his parents would not allow him to marry until he had earned his Master’s degree.

British intelligence did not allow Umar to return to Britain and further notified the US intelligence community of the possible threat he posed. Umar obtained his explosive device in Yemen and headed to the US where he was to attend an Islamist seminar in Texas.  Incredibly, though the State Department wanted to bar Umar from traveling to the US, the US intelligence agencies over ruled them and allowed Umar to travel to the US in an effort to use Umar as bait to catch more important terrorist suspects.

Umar began his terrorist journey by flying from Ghana (Africa) to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he got on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit, Michigan.  As the jetliner approached Detroit, Umar went to the rest room where he readied his bomb, and covered his body with a blanket when back in his seat.  Manipulating the device hidden in his under shorts with acid that was supposed to set off the explosion, Umar only succeeded in catching himself on fire.  Other passengers quickly subdued Umar and put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, dragging the now pants-less sap to the front of the cabin.  Umar admitted to trying to blow up the plane and was arrested upon landing.

Umar also admitted his ties to Al-Qaeda and was convicted of terrorist acts and sentenced to 4 life sentences with an additional 50 years.

Because only Umar’s genitals and legs were harmed and no one else suffered injury, Umar’s defense counsel argued that life sentences were too extreme.  Apparently those sentences were just right because they stood up to an appeal.  Meanwhile, passengers of US airline flights were subjected to even more stringent searches and regulations.

Along with the equally unsuccessful “Shoe Bomber,” the “Underwear Bomber” showed the great lengths Islamic terrorists would go to in order to harm Americans.  Even a person born into wealth and privilege could be a potential terrorist.

Do US regulations and efforts at airport security go far enough, or not far enough, in your opinion.  What measures would you like to see increased or decreased when it comes to passenger searches and regulations?  Please share your ideas.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.