by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The bumbling Nigerian “terrorist” who set his lap on fire on board an airliner in Detroit Christmas day will provide days or weeks of conveniently hysterical headlines, along with excuses to target West Africa and Yemen for extra special attention from the American military, and the usual host of justifications for existing US policies in what used to be called 'the war on terror'. But the similarities between his case, and that of incompetent “terrorists” in Fort Dix New Jersey, in Miami's Liberty City and elsewhere raise serious questions about the whole incident.
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Is the Detroit Nigerian "Terrorist" Another Patsy?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
What does the hapless Nigerian mope yanked off a plane in Detroit Christmas Day for setting his lap on fire have in common with color-coded terror alerts, with the shoeless, homeless Miami Haitians convicted of trying to bring down the Sears Tower, or with the 2004 pre-election videos allegedly dropped by Osama Bin Laden? Easy. All have been useful in whipping up public fear of Muslim-inspired “terrorism” and each and every one plugs neatly and sweetly into the meta-narratives that justify increasing the power of US police and intelligence establishments and the further militarization of foreign policy.
The guy is said to be an engineering student from Nigeria who received terrorist training in Yemen. Engineers are the practical souls whose profession is making things that actually work. Fortunately for the people on the plane, he seems to have been a very bad student who would have made a wretched engineer. He didn't know the difference between an explosive device, which might have done great harm to the plane and its passengers, and a small incendiary one which could do no more than set his own lap on fire, and maybe singe the hair of the passenger immediately next to him.
His Nigerian nationality is extremely useful, as it lets “terror experts” and talking heads on TV and radio to draw simplistic and misleading pictures for American audiences of Nigeria as a place besieged by Muslim fundamentalists linked with Al Qaeda and in need of more US military assistance. In the real world Nigeria is a major US oil supplier, and West Africa furnishes about a fifth of US oil imports, a portion expected to grow over the next decade. Nigeria has pumped trillions of dollars worth of oil for the West over the last fifty years without managing to give people in the oil-rich areas schools or electricity or hospitals. It has allowed foreign oil companies to make the region one of the most polluted in the world, where the rain eats metal roofs, health problems are endemic, and fishing and farming are nearly impossible.
After decades of violent suppression by successive military and civilian governments, Nigerians in the oil-rich regions have organized resistance movements which have sometimes posed direct threats to the operations of Western oil companies. For US military planners, inserting themselves into Nigeria to bolster the regime is a major priority. That's what AFRICOM is for.
The Nigerian reportedly received his “terror training” in Yemen. Yemen is located at the southern end of the Arabian Penninsula directly opposite AFRICOM's Djibouti base and close to Somalia, where the US has waged a 14 year series of interventions and proxy wars to secure Somalia's oil and gas resources for the West, an project that has killed a million Somalis, and currently has made another million homeless.
Yemen, as veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn assures us in an indispensable December 29 Counterpunch article, is next in the US crosshairs.
“It is the poorest Arab country, its government is weak, its people are armed, it already faces a serious rebellion, it is strongly tribal and its mountain ranges are a natural refuge for groups like al-Qa'ida...
“Yemen has been becoming increasingly unstable over the past two decades, ever since Saudi Arabia expelled a million Yemeni workers because Yemen refused to support the US-led war to expel Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in 1990.”
There is, Cockburn explains in the article which is well worth reading in its entirety, a civil war going on in Yemen, and the US needs excuses to beef up its intervention. Conveniently then, most terror suspects apprehended in the US will be found to have ties to the Yemeni insurgents.
Although the bumbling Nigerian had a multiple-entry US visa, he reportedly managed to board the Detroit-bound plane without showing it or his passport. Someone better dressed and better spoken intervened and got him on, according to published reports. Who? How? Why? He paid for his one-way ticket in Ghana in cash, and packed no more than a knapsack. People are profiled and searched for doing this all the time, all over the world, but he was not. And of course there's the matter of the incendiary device itself, which should have been easily detectable. It's not like they don't screen passengers at European airports boarding international flights. Why was he exempt from the normal search that passengers undergo, and if he was searched why did the normal procedures fail?
One possible answer to all these questions is that the guy is a patsy, a fool manipulated by people smarter and more resourceful than him for the purpose of creating the useful “terrorist” incident. That's what happened to the Haitians in Miami. They were disaffected and homeless, living in a Liberty City warehouse. They were contacted by a federal agent who said he could get weapons and explosives, shoes for the shoeless, rental cars (none of them had a bank account, let alone a credit card) and put them in touch with Al Qaeda. The federal agent helped them send fan mail to Osama Bin Laden and led them in taking a made-up jihadi oath, and delivered them fake weapons so they could be arrested. Journalist Webster Tarpley, in an early December Guns and Butter Radio interview (audio below – click the flash player or go to http://aud1.kpfa.org//data/20091216-Wed1300.mp3 )
with Bonnie Faulkner lays out a series of similar incidents in which apparent patsies have been used to create incidents like this. Although the interview was three weeks before the Christmas day incident, the similarities between the Liberty City case, the so-called Fort Dix 6, and other cases are numerous and startling.
Journalist I.F. Stone told us half a century ago that “Governments lie. All governments lie.” It would not be the first time our government lied to get us into or to keep us involved in an unjust war, or to create an atmosphere of crisis to support some otherwise unsupportable policy. It wouldn't even be the fifty-first time. If Stone were alive today he'd assure us that the Obama government will readily lie to us too, in the service of its policy objectives, and probably in better English than Bush ever could. Is the incompetent Nigerian “terrorist” a patsy, intended to generate hysterical headlines and reinforce the administration's policies at home and abroad? Time will tell. Maybe.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.