The flying imams: Another look

In today’s Washington Times Audrey Hudson reviews the behavior of the flying imams: “How the imams terrorized an airliner.” Here is information on the seat belt extenders that I have not seen reported elsewhere:

Three of the men asked for seat-belt extenders, although two flight attendants told police the men were not oversized. One flight attendant told police she “found this unsettling, as crew knew about the six [passengers] on board and where they were sitting.” Rather than attach the extensions, the men placed the straps and buckles on the cabin floor, the flight attendant said.

(Emphasis added.) The story also discusses the seating of the imams on the plane, including the apparent fact that two of the imams moved from their assigned seats to first class:

The imams who claimed two first-class seats said their tickets were upgraded. The gate agent told police that when the imams asked to be upgraded, they were told no such seats were available. Nevertheless, the two men were seated in first class when removed.

With two of the imams in first class, the six imams were positioned on the plane from front to back:

Passengers and flight attendants told law-enforcement officials the imams switched from their assigned seats to a pattern associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks and also found in probes of U.S. security since the attacks — two in the front row first-class, two in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle and two in the rear of the cabin.

Greg Lang of takes a look at the seat belt extenders. In a message summarizing his research, he writes:

I believe the seat belt extensions create a serious airline security threat. This is one heck of a weapon that has been overlooked. Basically the “heavy” head of this is very heavy with both the latch and the belt adjuster lock thing. In a weapon sense it’s a lot like a padlock on a chain or in prison a canned item in a sock. A solid blow to the head can disable and the strap can be used to choke or restrain. I was astounded that these were [allowed for use as] carry on items.

I close with a quote from former Minnesota Senator and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights Rudy Boschwitz:

There you are at the gate about to kiss your wife and kids goodbye and the imams begin praying. Would you walk away and let the family go forward? Or would you be much relieved if the airline said: hold on, we ought to check these guys out. Give me a break and not this liberal bullshit.
The airline acted prudently just as it should have.

UPDATE: A reader who asks not to be identified adds:

I am an airline captain at a major national airline. On the subject of seat belt extensions, at my airline, we carry them onboard and I wasn’t aware that they could be purchased elsewhere. These extensions have a legitimate place onboard. They are used by our larger passengers who are unable to fasten the seatbelt absent an extension (and if you’ve spoken to this point already, I’ve missed it).
That these extensions could be used as improvised weapons is not something that our crews are unaware of. There are many, many innocuous items that can become deadly. You’ve already cited a canned item in a sock (I wonder how many passengers think the flight attendant is simply being overly thrifty with the soft drink can when she wants to only dispense a glass at a time?). A belt with a heavy buckle would serve the same purpose. Sturdy pens can be stabbing weapons. The list of improvised weapons is only limited by the ingenuity of those who might use them.
The larger point I’d like to make is that, despite the increased level of TSA scrutiny we all go through, it is unrealistic to expect that airplanes would be weapons-free zones. Prisons cannot be made weapons-free despite strip searches and controls on contraband.
Although without knowing more details of what actually went on in this case, it is difficult to know exactly how I might have reacted, from what I’ve read, it appears that the crew did the right thing. These imams were behaving oddly enough that, knowing what I know now, I think I would have had them removed too.

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