The latest attempt by
Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to bring an explosive device on a U.S. bound
aircraft has led to renewed focus on Yemen as the front in the War on
Terror.  U.S. officials believe Al-Qaeda
has more than 1000 members in Yemen with connections to the Al-Qaeda leadership
in Pakistan.  In breaking the news
yesterday about Al-Qaeda’s latest attempt to blow up an airplane the media though
forgot to mention one small detail, the itinerary of this so called “underwear
bomber”. How was he planning to fly to the U.S.? For sure not from Yemen, as a
matter of fact it wouldn’t be from anywhere in the Middle East but most likely from
Europe because there are no flights from Yemen to the U.S. neither from Iran,
Syria and all the other hot spots. There are more flights from London to New
York alone (on U.S. carriers) than from the entire Middle East (excluding
Israel).  So, Yemen may be where Al-Qaeda
does their Product Development but Europe is increasingly used as their Distribution



So how exactly was the
suspected master bomb maker Ibrahim-al-Asiri planning to get the “underwear
bomber” on a U.S. bound flight? Well, here is what he probably would do. Call
one of the Five Million Muslims living in France and tell them to book a flight
to the U.S. As most French Muslims have a French passport in addition to one of
their native country (usually Syria, Iran, Algeria etc.), they can enter the
U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows European
nationals to enter the U.S. without a Visa irrespective of their country of
origin or any other passports they have. As unemployment among Muslims in
France is nearly 20% it wouldn’t be that hard to find a volunteer. Here is
another hint why Al-Qaeda prefers to use Europe as the gateway to the U.S.
rather than a country from their own hemisphere. Airport security in the Middle
East is a lot stricter. Even before driving into the airport area your car will
be subject to a random search by security. Upon walking into the terminal all
passengers and luggage are screened before you can proceed to enter. At customs
your passport is checked for criminal activity or violations end at the gate
there is the final metal detector as we have in the U.S. and Europe. Years ago
I failed to pay a speeding ticket on my rental car in Turkey; I was stopped at
the border and summoned to pay before boarding my flight to the U.S. Most European
airports don’t have these additional security measures neither does the U.S.



The war against terror
should be fought on multiple fronts, Europe being a key battleground. The 2001
shoe bomber and the 2009 Christmas bomber both originated their U.S. flights
from Europe. The leader of the 9/11 attacks Mohamed Atta lived in Germany. We
therefore need to do two things: 1) Suspend the Visa Waiver program to prevent
free travel to the U.S. of Europeans with a dual nationality from countries
that sponsor terrorism. 2) Increase European airport security by implementing
additional safeguards like those in the Middle East.  Though these may not detect Al-Qaeda’s latest
tricks it will certainly increase the chance of a terrorist being stopped
before it is too late.


Reinier Prijten

May 2012

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