Northwest Airlines underwear bomber – December 25, 2009

On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight with a device hidden in his underware and failed to detonate it.

Terrorists are often portrayed as dedicated fanatics. You HAVE to be dedicated to put a bomb in your underwear!

The world has seen a lot of innovation when it comes to terrorism. The Soviets disguised bombs in brightly-coloured packages so Afghan kids would pick them up. In 2010 Al Qaeda (AQ) put a bomb in a printer cartridge. As we have already discussed, back in 2001 Richard Reid had a ‘shoe bomb’.

What about a bomb in your underpants?

I don’t know about you but putting anything remotely like an explosive in my crotch is strictly verboten! That part of the body is very, very sensitive, not to mention somewhat important for reproduction and sexual enjoyment. So, no thank you, I will not entertain that as a plan!

Underwear bombing?

It has happened before though. In 2009 the would-be assassin of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Nayef hid a bomb in his underwear, apparently believing that cultural taboos would prevent a search in that part of his body. The prince survived: the assailant did not fare so well.

The man behind the design of the underpants bomb is believed to have been Ibrahim al-Asiri, a top-ranked member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He was also the mastermind of the aforementioned printer explosive device.

All the bombs were cleverly hidden and passed undetected through X-ray machines and other security equipment and, in the words of then White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, were “very sophisticated devices” built by someone with “very proficient bomb-making capabilities.”

American Airlines Flight 96 

On Christmas Day 2009, Nigerian Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with a device hidden in his underpants but was was unable to detonate it as the airliner descended to its destination. If he had been successful the airliner would have crashed in southwestern Ontario, possibly close to my hometown of London.

AQAP was the sponsor of the plot, more specifically Anwar al Aulaqi (also rendered Awlaki), a Yemeni-American who was a jihadi guru. In my time at CSIS every Islamist extremist of interest had videos or audios of his speeches. Aulaqi was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

So no, not a single attempt at putting a bomb in the nether regions has worked. This is not for want of effort however. What this tells us is that terrorists continually try to modify their MOs to defeat our counter measures.

It also means we have to be on our guard – constantly.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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