Terrorism and Airline Safety


The incident aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas day is now being called an attempted act of terrorism. An airline passenger claiming to have ties to Al Qaeda was subdued after he tried to ignite a powdery substance capable of exploding and destroying the plane just before it landed in Detroit.

The suspect is identified as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, one of 278 passengers flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. He is now in custody and has claimed ties to Al Qaeda during questioning by the Transportation Security Administration.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not on any “no-fly list,” but one source familiar with the investigation said the suspect did come up in another federal database.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama were quickly briefed on the situation. President Obama was notified while vacationing in Hawaii with his family. The president ordered a review of the nation’s watch-list system and of its air safety regulations, and asked his national security team to keep up the pressure on terrorists aiming to attack the U.S.

“It’s absolutely critical that we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism,” Obama added in his public remarks.

Learning Activity

What is working and what isn’t working in the Homeland Security system for airline safety? What could or should have been done to prevent this from happening? What new technologies and procedures must be implemented to ensure airline safety both on international and domestic flights?

Essential questions for critical thinking (you can create or substitute others):

  • What are the primary reasons for failure to prevent the Nigerian terrorist from boarding the plane with explosives?
  • What are some of the new security reforms being considered by Congress?
  • What current procedures for security in airports are not working?
  • Should profiling and body scans of passenger be part of the solution?
  • Should security procedures be different for international and domestic flights?

Research Pathfinders

Using SIRS Knowledge Source investigate it for answers to the above questions. Suggested search: “Terrorism AND Airline security” in the Search box


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