Two weeks ago, law enforcement arrested an aviation mechanic for sabotaging an American Airlines jet, supposedly for retaliation over a labor dispute. Now, however, federal prosecutors allege that Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani has connections to ISIS, as well as evidence he shared the terror network’s propaganda. The new developments came out in a bail hearing yesterday, resulting in remand for the suspect:
There are new details in the case of an airline mechanic accused of sabotaging an American Airlines jetliner. Prosecutors say evidence unveiled at the suspect's bail hearing revealed he stored ISIS videos on his phone and made statements wishing Allah would harm non-Muslims. pic.twitter.com/x0VBGNpPsk
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) September 19, 2019
At his detention hearing, prosecutors said that since his arrest investigators with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force have learned that Alani lied about taking a trip to Iraq in March to visit his brother, and that he told a fellow American Airlines employee in June that his brother had been kidnapped and was a member of the extremist Islamic group known as ISIS.
Prosecutors also said Alani allowed the FBI to search his smartphone and agents found a “disturbing” ISIS video in which a person was being shot in the head, and that he sent the video to someone with an Arabic message asking “Allah” to take revenge against non-Muslims. In addition, they said Alani sent $700 to someone in Iraq, where he was born and has family.
Prosecutor Maria Medetis told the judge that when federal investigators questioned Alani after his arrest on Sept. 5, he told them he had an “evil side” and that he “wanted to do something to delay” the plane “to get overtime” for maintenance repairs. After putting in a double shift on July 17, he actually did some overtime work on the disabled plane. On average, he made $9,400 a month as an American mechanic.
That was the story from the first reports from the arrest — that Alani did it for the money. The feds have kept a tight lid on the potential nexus to terrorism since then, although some had speculated about it from the beginning. After all, it sounded like an odd tactic to take in labor negotiations, especially since it was a one-off and seemingly unconnected to work issues. Not until one of Alani’s co-workers tipped them off to some of Alani’s comments did investigators start putting the ISIS connection together.
From the Miami Herald’s report on the bail hearing, Alani’s defense attorney still sounds as though he’s a step behind the developments. He argued for bail on the premise that Alani’s sabotage wasn’t actually dangerous because Alani knew that the plane had a back-up system to the component he disabled. Prosecutors had already covered that, however, even if that were the main issue any more:
But the prosecutor also said Alani admitted to investigators that his tampering with the plane’s navigation system was dangerous. When they asked him whether he would allow himself or his own family to fly on the jet without the system, he said “no,” Medetis said.
Allegations are not convictions, of course, and bail hearings have lower standard of proof than actual trials. Still, prosecutors have to make good-faith statements about the evidence in bail hearings, which strongly suggests that their evidence also strongly suggests those potential connections.
All of this leads to questions also raised by CBS in its coverage. If Alani had those connections to ISIS or other Islamist terror networks and openly discussed it, how did it go unreported for so long? How did the regular security and background checks necessary for access to airports and airlines miss it? Why didn’t his co-workers say something — or if they did, what happened? This should raise serious concerns about the vetting process at and around airports.
But there are other questions that cut the other way, too. If Alani did sabotage the flight out of a terrorist sympathy or motivation, why sabotage it in a way so easily addressed and found? A terrorist cell that penetrated the Miami airport could have done a whoooooooole lot more damage. Why did Alani choose to do something so easily corrected, and so easily traced back to himself? Prosecutors will likely have to answer those questions convincingly to get a terrorist-nexus conviction, and those answers will be very interesting to hear.