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Red Flags Fly Over American Airlines’ Sabotage Case

Article written by Ken Ward

The trial of an American Airlines mechanic charged with disabling a jet’s navigation system may shed light on a troubling lapse in aviation security.

But this is about far more than the nuts and bolts of airplane maintenance. U.S. immigration and national security officials must probe more deeply into their own culpability.

The case of Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani raises a number of red flags. As Dan Cadman of the Center for Immigration Studies recently outlined:

• Alani originally came to the United States from Iraq as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. In 1992, he passed his naturalization exam, supposedly demonstrating competency in English. Yet when Alani was arraigned in a Miami court last month – 27 years later -- his English was so poor that the judge ordered an Arabic interpreter.

• If his English is that deficient, it’s reasonable to ask how Alani could function as a competent mechanic when manuals, instruction guides, tutorials and courses are in English. How could he communicate effectively with pilots and other mechanics?

• At one point Alani worked as a mechanic at both American and Alaska Airlines. Alaska Air eventually fired him for "mistakes" and unidentified irregularities, as well as for submitting fraudulent timesheets. According to a court affidavit, Alani claimed he sabotaged the American Airlines plane to cause a delay or have the flight canceled so he could obtain overtime work. He also was reportedly disgruntled over stalled union contract negotiations.

• According to federal prosecutors, Islamic State propaganda videos showing graphic murders were on Alani's cell phone. One of the videos was sent to another person with a message calling for Allah to "use all your might and power against the Kafir [non-believer].” 

Since Alani has admitted to disabling the plane’s navigation system on July 17, the tampering case against him appears to be a strong one. (After the plane’s crew received an error alert when powering up the engines, the flight was aborted and no one was hurt.)

No harm, no foul? Hardly. Americans should expect a thorough investigation by the Department of Homeland Security into Alani’s ISIS contacts, including his trip to Iraq last March.

Questions also must be answered by the entities that enabled Alani. To wit: the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which approved his naturalization; the Federal Aviation Administration, which took no action after Alaska Airlines fired him; and American Airlines, the industry’s leading user of foreign worker visas, which still claims to have “an unwavering commitment to safety and security.”