Burning Questions

Burning Questions

Burning Questions

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 24 2001 3:53 AM

Burning Questions

Everybody leads with follow-up from Saturday's attempt at an airliner bombing.  The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Todayfocus on officials' confirmation that the attacker was indeed carrying explosives in his shoes on the flight. The Los Angeles Times's lead emphasizes that U.S. authorities think the bungled bomber was acting alone and may just be a wee bit unstable. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, says that the man told authorities "that he dreamed this up on his own." The WSJ's top story, meanwhile, wonders how the perpetrator got through security, especially since he had already been identified as a high-risk traveler.

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The papers say that the U.S. and Britain believe that the man of the moment is named Richard Reid, but the French suspect that he has another nom: Tariq Raja a.k.a. Abdel Rahim.

Reid was tackled by passengers after a flight attendant noticed a burning smell and saw that Reid was trying to light the tongue of one of his shoes on fire. The LAT says it still not clear what kind of explosives he had. But the WSJ says it wasn't C-4, the top-notch stuff used by the U.S. military. 

Reid tried to board the same flight on Friday, but was stopped because, as the WSJ puts it, "airline agents were uneasy about his passport." The Journal says that French police subsequently "verified" his passport, but he had already missed his flight so he needed to take the next day's flight. The others papers also note that French authorities had flagged Reid as a high-risk passenger, and everybody wonders how it is that the extra attention didn't extend to Reid's customized high-tops—especially since FAA just put out a (non-public) warning a few weeks ago that urged airlines to be on the lookout for terrorists trying to hide weapons in their shoes.  The Post has what could end up being a key detail: Security officials at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the flight originated, have complained in the past about not having enough bomb-sniffing dogs.

The Post also raises a good point: Reid may have acted alone, but it sure is a coincidence that he and terrorists (or at least the FAA) came up with the same idea for concealing explosives. 

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The FAA said it mandated additional security measures yesterday that "may or may not be obvious to the public."  Hmm, the Post reports that security checkpoints are now asking some folks to take off their shoes for inspection.

USAT fronts word from a "local tribal commander" that some radioactive material, perhaps depleted uranium—which actually isn't very radioactive—has been found at a former al-Qaida tunnel complex located at the edge of the Kandahar airport. Such a find would lend credence to reports that al-Qaida was trying to develop a "dirty bomb."  A U.S. spokesperson at the airbase said he "cannot deny" the report.

The Post off-leads with word that India and Pakistan are massing troops on their borders, resulting in the biggest military build-up in years. Pakistan has also deployed ballistic missiles near the border—the kind that can hold nukes.

Don't worry, said some Indian officials, it's all for show. "We are keeping up the warmongering to get the U.S. to put pressure" on Pakistan to crack down Kashmiri separatist groups, said one.  

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The papers all front the newly installed president of Argentina's first official act in office: basically declaring his government bankrupt and defaulting on $132 billion worth of government bonds and loans. That's the largest default in history.

The papers note that foreign lenders have been expecting this for a while, so they've already sold off Argentinean bonds. Argentina's neighbors have also largely protected themselves.

The papers stuff word that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qureia, have drafted a peace plan that calls for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state—consisting of the 43 percent of the occupied territories already controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The other questions: the settlements, the right of return, etc. etc. etc., aren't part of this plan.  Sharon and Arafat both, at least publicly, pooh-poohed the proposal. 

Meanwhile Israel, saying that Arafat has yet to arrest the murderers of Israel's tourism minister, is refusing to let him travel to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas. Arafat is real angry about the diss and plans on going there anyway, "even if I have to go by foot."

The travel restriction appears to be backfiring. "This is the best Christmas gift Sharon could give Arafat," said one Israeli defense official.

The WSJ says that the Bush administration, in response to the recession and cost of the fight against terrorism, "is considering significant spending cuts in some energy-efficiency, environmental and public-works programs."

The WP's Style section notes that a shopping center in Scotland has come with a new way to attract female customers:  surrogate boyfriends. "The Shopping Boyfriend is the ultimate retail therapist: enthusiastic, attentive, admiring and complimentary," a center spokeswoman said. "He'll even say her bum looks small."