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Friday, July 30, 2004

Update: Terror in the Skys. Part Three

July 30, 2004
It's been two-and-a-half weeks since the first "Terror in the Skies, Again?" article was posted on and subsequently set off an international debate. From the cockpit to the coffee shop, from the water coolers to the halls of Congress, countless numbers of people have been talking -- and shouting -- about this article. It seems that anyone who reads the article develops a strong opinion, which in turn creates more questions. Flight #327 has opened Pandora's box.

Last week, when the name of the band was revealed (Syrian singer Nour Mehana) one side shouted: See, we told you so! Then, when we learned that 13 of the 14 Syrian musicians were traveling on expired visas (which no one from the FBI, the TSA, the LAPD, or the JTTF noticed), the other side shouted: No, we told you so! I watched the two sides rally back and forth all week until finally, to borrow columnist Michelle Malkin's words, Flight 327 Landed on Capitol Hill. And this is exactly where it should be. This week, I spoke at length with the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on the matter. It was an honor and a privilege, and I believe things are finally in the right hands. It seems to me that the highest-ups don't like having to get information that involves national security from articles written by yours truly -- and I don't blame them. Thanks to all of you from both sides of the argument who have been so boisterous, the heart of the matter -- which is to investigate exactly what happened on flight #327, how it was handled or mishandled, and how to improve airline security in the future -- has gotten to members of Congress.

I've kept quiet about numerous matters that have surfaced over the past few weeks. But there is something I must share because I find it so telling. Yesterday, I had a conversation with Dr. Imad Moustapha, the United States Ambassador of Syria. Earlier in the week, Dr. Moustapha wrote this letter to the Editor of The Washington Times.

"I am responding to Audrey Hudson's article 'Scouting jetliners for new attacks' (Page 1, Thursday). We are shocked by this article. It only reflects paranoia verging on the point of hysterics. The woman mentioned most prominently in this article, Annie Jacobsen, is an advocate of ethnic profiling who survived a horrendous ordeal: a flight with 14 harmless Syrian musicians. "After this ordeal, and despite the fact that she reached her destination safe and sound, she 'spread 3,000 bigoted and paranoid words across the Internet,' as put it. "Your reporter failed to mention that the only 'crimes' these professional musicians were accused of committing were going to the lavatory, eating McDonald's food and talking to one another. "The fact that they have performed in the past six months in places such as the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School did not prevent Mrs. Jacobsen from saying, 'Couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?' "The reporter for The Washington Times should have informed her readers that the whole story was a case of a group of talented musicians going to Los Angeles to play music, as simple as that." -IMAD MOUSTAPHA Ambassador of Syria

I called Dr. Moustapha to ask him if he had some kind of specific information about the "harmless" men on my flight. Perhaps, he, of all people, could clear some things up. What an opportunity! I thought. I've always maintained that if these 14 Syrians showed up on my doorstep and serenaded me, I'd still have some serious questions about their behavior at 30,000 feet. Remember, they themselves admitted to law enforcement in Los Angeles that they "acted suspiciously." Maybe Dr. Moustapha -- of all people in the United States -- with his long list of credentials and his diplomatic pull, might actually be able to get me in touch with these 14 members of Nour Mehana's back-up band. Maybe he could help put the lid back on Pandora's box. I mean, could it all really be as simple as reporter Joe Sharkey from The New York Times says it is -- that these Syrian individuals simply confused how to act on a 757 jet in America with how one might act on a bus in Damascus? The same way that someone from the North Pole might think it's OK to wear a ski mask into an American bank? Certainly Dr. Moustapha, a member of the Syrian team responsible for drafting reform strategies for the ministries of Culture, Education, and Higher Education, might be able to account for the behavior that I, other passengers, the flight crew and the federal air marshals found so disturbing.

After introductory pleasantries, I asked Dr. Moustapha why his letter suggested that these 14 Syrians played at the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and the Julliard School, when according to my research, that's not at all the case. Dr. Moustapha said Nour Mehana and his back-up band had not played there, but that other Syrian musicians had. I told Dr. Moustapha that his letter to The Washington Times was at best misleading, and at worst, completely misrepresenting the facts. I added that I didn't consider doing so either diplomatic or fair. Dr. Moustapha told me that I was a paranoid racist. I asked Dr. Moustapha if, by suggesting that all Syrian musicians are innocent (not to mention talented) just because they are Syrian, wasn't that the same kind of gross generalization he'd accused me of? Dr. Moustapha told me again that I was a paranoid person and that the men did nothing wrong.

I reminded him that it was the in-flight behavior of the men (which has now been corroborated by other passengers) which caused alarm, not their Syrian heritage. He said a few more things that aren't fit to print. I suggested to Dr. Moustapha that we focus on a diplomatic solution, that perhaps he himself could help to locate the 14 Syrian musicians in question so that they could share their side of the story. I waited for an answer, but instead, Dr. Moustapha hung up on me.

Sounds like Dr. Moustapha won't be helping us find the band. Sounds like this matter is going to be left up to The Hill. FR Reprint.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of islamic culture.
Came across one of their sites that had a thread to this story-----could it have been possible that the men
were doing prayer in the lav. ? that's what the majority posted.
"killing them softly"

8:08 PM  

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