The furor that arose over the bomb confiscated from a young man trying to board a plane in Edmonton has drawn attention to Canada’s airport security – or lack thereof.
From the details that emerged last week, the 18-year-old made a couple of pipe bombs about a year ago. He and some friends exploded one and he put the other back in his camera bag. That was in February.
A few months later, in September, he and his family were at Edmonton airport on the way to a vacation in Mexico, when what should turn up during a security check but the bomb. It is described as a six-inch gunpowder-filled metal pipe with a fuse, a fully functional bomb.
What happened next boggles the mind. After security found the bomb and determined it contained no drugs, the young man was allowed to board his plane. Someone even tried to give the bomb back to him. Police were not notified until four days later. When the teen returned from his holiday, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to possession of an explosive. His sentence? A year’s probation and a $100 fine. He is also prohibited from owning firearms and was ordered to donate $500 to the University of Alberta burn unit.
The young man in question has been quoted as saying media accounts do not accurately reflect what happened. Most of us would certainly hope there is more – or less – to this story than what has been published, because as it stands, the Edmonton airport has no security worth speaking of.
Without commenting on the security team’s abysmal lack of training or alarming lapse in judgment, what seems obvious is the boy was not perceived as a threat. Photos show a kid who would look right at home at the local high school. He was travelling with his family, going on a vacation. An explanation something along the lines of, “Oh, my goodness, I forgot that was in my camera bag, no drugs, just a firecracker my buddies and I were goofing around with,” would have sounded plausible. The courts read the situation the way airport security did – no threat, just a kid messing with things that go “boom,” as teenaged boys sometimes do. No one could prove he intended to do harm with it.
We can fill in the blanks – no drugs, a nice kid and a nice family, likely in a hurry to get on their flight. And a firecracker some kids made. Why ruin a family vacation over nothing?
A few days and many second thoughts later, a kid trying to board an aircraft with an explosive device started looking like something that should have been reported. And was, four days too late.
We might speculate – or hope - that had the boy been travelling alone, had a name and appearance that hinted at an Asian or African background, and been carrying something with a timer and coloured wires, the scenario would have been perceived as a threat.
What we need to keep in mind is news photos of another young man only a couple of years older than Skylar Murphy, who was part of the al-Qaida terrorist group that took over an Algerian refinery.
The fact that Xristos Katsiroubas grew up in London, Ontario, attended a high school some kids in this area have competed with on the sports field, and did not look at all like a terrorist, did not deter him from shooting a machine gun at a police helicopter and trying to blow up hostages (and himself). The final death toll in Algeria was 68; one of the dead was Katsiroubas.
Many of the young people who entered schools and murdered their classmates looked like ordinary kids, until they walked through the school doors with guns blazing.
Just because someone looks like an ordinary kid does not mean he is no threat. By the same token, dressing people in uniforms and placing them at an airport does not mean they have the skills and training to prevent another Air India disaster.
When we head to the airport for a vacation in the tropics, as many of us will be doing in the next few weeks, we can only pray our fellow passengers’ luggage has been checked by someone who knows better than to let a kid bring his pipe bomb on the plane.
- Special to the Banner