Terrorism and toilets

Last night a passenger was subdued on Boston-bound Delta flight 1102 after trying to open up an emergency exit door. The same thing happened on Continental Airline flight 546 from Houston to Chicago. In the former case, the man in question was upset because the flight was delayed and, well, he'd had too much to drink. There aren't many details in the latter case. We just know that he is one Reynel C. Alcaide of Burbank, Illinois, 34.

Coverage of another incident, however, is interesting. Passenger Rageh al-Murisi was arrested after creating a disturbance on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco. This CNN.com story reports that the suspect had "mental issues."

Here's the Associated Press lede:

The passengers sat stunned as they watched a man walk quickly toward the front of American Airlines Flight 1561 as it was descending toward San Francisco. He was screaming and then began pounding on the cockpit door.

Ah, he was screaming, was he? What was he screaming? I don't know but the story does mention that he's from Yemen and had no known ties to terrorism. A cousin says:

[Rageh] Almoraissi said he could not imagine what may have caused his cousin to act as authorities allege he did on the plane, but said he was certain Almurisi was not a terrorist. He said his cousin did not show an interest in politics and was not intensely religious.

"He might have seriously mistaken the cockpit for the bathroom," Almoraissi said. "He's only been on three planes in his whole life." Almurisi was taking classes in California to learn English but was not happy with his progress, his cousin said.

If you can stick with the story until the 15th and 16th paragraphs, you'll learn:

She said a woman in a row across from her who speaks Arabic translated that Almurisi said "God is Great!" in Arabic.

[Passenger Andrew] Wai, 27, also remembered on Monday that the wife of one of the men who took Almurisi down later said Almurisi was yelling "Allahu Akbar."

I wonder why "Great" is capitalized. In any case, the video embedded above points out how passengers said, at the outset, that al-Murisi was shouting "Allahu Akbar" but that many broadcast media outlets from around the country didn't think it was important to include these words -- or their English equivalent -- in their stories. Since there have been many reports of Muslim terrorists shouting just this as they engaged in their acts, it seems odd to leave that information out of a story, much less fail to explain its potential significance.

I realize it was almost 10 years ago, but "Allahu Akbar" were the last words heard on the flight recorder for Flight 93 as it careened to the ground. To pick just one terror example that is seared in the memory of many Americans. There is significance here and the news sense of placing these words after the bathroom defense is odd, isn't it?

This story from a local NBC affiliate includes the perspectives of the cousins, who maintain the suspect "was a normal guy and they don't think he had any intention of hurting anyone." But it also gives these details from a sitdown with one of the men who subdued the suspect:

Larry Wright said he was sitting in seat 20C when he noticed a fellow passenger walking past. "As I turned, there was a person walking past me. He rapidly broke into a trot... then yelled 'Allahu akbar.'" Wright said from his training as a police office he knew there was a problem and he immediately got up and followed the man. He said when he reached him, he was at the cockpit door. Wright said he put him in a control hold with the help of four or five other people. ...

Wright said al-Murisi never spoke to him directly but said "Allahu akbar" some more 30 times during the duration of the flight.

Nidal Hasan murdered 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire. At the time, members of a list-serv for liberal journalists and pundits discussed whether the media should report this for fear the public might think there was a conspiracy of Islamist terror. Other members of the list-serv responded that an accurate description of Hasan's actions was imperative.

The same seems to apply here. It's understandable that federal agents will want to refrain from assigning motives to the man from Yemen. There's no need for the media, however, to refrain from giving an accurate description of al-Murisi's actions. On the other hand, I wonder if some reporters aren't jumping to too many conclusions. AFP wrote on the "Spate of US plane incidents after bin Laden death." It fails to mention the "Allahu Akbar" utterances but it also attempts to tie together a bunch of travel occurrences without evidence.

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