Matt felt groggy and disoriented as he began to regain consciousness. The first thing he noticed was a violent freezing wind hitting him in the face like a thousand needles. It stung badly and made it almost impossible for him to catch his breath. He was extremely light headed, and every cell of his body begged him to slip back into the darkness. He was lucid enough however, to know that something had gone terribly wrong. Just a few moments earlier, he had been safely buckled into seat 27D as his flight from London prepared to land in Chicago. It had been a very smooth flight, and he had spent most of the journey either sleeping or chatting with the very attractive young lady sitting next to him. She was a sales representative for a British company, and was making her first trip to the US for a sales conference. She had been quite excited about the trip and had asked him dozens of questions about the city. The last thing Matt remembered before blacking out was telling her where to get the best Italian beef sandwich in town.
As his vision began to clear, he noticed that bright light was pouring into the cabin. His first thought was that someone had blown a hole in the front of the aircraft but, as he regained his sight, he discovered to his horror that the front of the plane was no longer there. All he could see through the freezing wind was twisted metal and blue sky. He also realized that he was no longer looking forward, but rather looking up. Apparently his Airbus had been severed in two. His mind began to sharpen as adrenaline surged through his veins. They were free falling vertically. He looked out the window and saw the unmistakable shape of the Sears Tower jutting out of the ground, but it spun out of sight as quickly as it had appeared. He could not tell if he was upside down or right side up, his heart was beating in his throat, and he felt himself beginning to slip into shock. He looked to his left across the aisle. The man and woman sitting there were wide awake, the woman was screaming with her arms stretched out trying to reclaim the infant that had slipped from her grip. The baby was gone however. Matt watched in disbelief as her husband dutifully unbuckled his belt, telling his bride that he would go get their son and be right back. Almost instantly, he hit the overhead and bounced along the fuselage until he was sucked outside into the sky. Matt looked helplessly back a the woman. Her screaming had stopped, and she was sleeping peacefully, perhaps reunited with her husband and son.
They were very low now and Matt knew that they would be hitting the ground any second. He looked to his right for the young sales rep. She was still there, staring forward and clutching her arm rests. Matt thought that she looked amazingly calm. Tears were streaming down her face however, with the realization that there was nothing left. There would be no sales conference, no Chicago, no career, and no Italian beef with hot peppers. She turned slowly to look at Matt. He reached over to her and she grabbed his hand tightly. He fixed his gaze on her and tried to smile. “It’s okay,” he reassured her, “it will be fast.” She smiled and squeezed his hand even tighter. “I hope so,” she whispered back. Matt took a deep breath as he gazed into her face. “What beautiful blue eyes,” he thought to himself, “what beautiful eyes.”
Moments later, news alerts interrupted morning programming across the country. So far, 10 planes had fallen out of the sky, but there were still others out there. Low on fuel, many of them would have little choice but to continue toward the US mainland. The Air Force had scrambled F-16 fighters to intercept these aircraft and escort them to military airfields away from populous metropolitan areas. If the airliners could not or would not comply however, the fighters had orders to shoot them from the sky before they made landfall.
In the span of about 2 hours almost 2,000 innocent people had died violent deaths. Flights around the world were grounded, airports were closed and evacuated, and daytime curfews were put in place across the US. In a special address to the American People, from an undisclosed location, President Obama vowed to find the perpetrators, and bring them to justice. He also urged Americans everywhere to stay calm. Later in the afternoon, as anticipated, Al Qaeda released a statement to Al Jazeera News taking responsibility for the attack. No one had any idea how so much explosive material had been smuggled onto so many planes without detection. One thing was clear to everyone though, this had been the biggest tragedy since 9/11 and, almost 9 years later, commercial airliners were still the terrorists’ weapon of choice.
In the days following the attack, forensic analysis began to put the picture together. The explosives had apparently been concealed in shrink wrapped pallets of cargo. The terrorists had calculated that, since the underwear bomber incident, airline security agencies would be focused on screening random passengers for concealed weapons and explosives. They would be far too busy looking for PETN strapped to peoples’ boxer shorts, to worry about checking air cargo. They were right. Al Qaeda knew that US air carriers transported nearly 12 million pounds of commercial cargo on passenger planes every day, and almost all of it went completely unchecked. This was the chink in America’s armor that they had been praying for. It was a huge lapse in security and, sadly enough, one that had been well documented for years. The fact is, neither Bush nor Obama had done anything to fix the problem, even though they were well aware of it. Industry pressure, political correctness, and bureaucratic incompetence had conspired to make the problem ” just too hard.” So, once again, our government had decided to take the politically expedient way out, and play the odds with the lives of innocent American travelers. Reaction to the attack was visceral. Thousands took to the streets calling for Napolitano’s resignation and a congressional review of TSA security policy. America was furious, and rightfully so. Lawmakers, and security leads hit the airwaves trying to justify their inaction and point the finger elsewhere, but the public would have none of it. They wanted heads to roll. Things were bad for Obama as well. Despite a number of well written impassioned speeches, he had watched his popularity ratings nose dive. The people were angrier than anyone could remember, and it was about to get much worse.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, woke up for morning prayer in his supermax cell. He swung his feet out of bed and placed them into his slippers. Still full from dinner the night before, he pushed his breakfast tray toward the wall and unrolled his prayer blanket. He was still sore around his upper thighs, but the skin grafts he had received compliments of the United States were taking well and starting to cover his wounds. As he prayed, he thanked Allah for giving him strength while in American captivity. Umar had fully expected to die in glorious martyrdom, and when his bomb did not explode properly he was terrified at the thought of what the Americans would do to him. But they had not water boarded him, or even really interrogated him. Instead they fixed his wounds, gave him a clean cell and, after an hour of questioning, told him that he had the right to not speak to them anymore if he did not want to. They even sent him a team of lawyers to ensure that he had a fair trial. He could not believe what they told him at their first meeting. As he lay in his hospital bed with his wounds from the underwear bomb still burning, they explained to him that he was innocent until proven guilty. This had truly amazed him.
Umar continued to pray, thanking Allah for these men, for his chance to serve, and for not being sent to Guantanamo. When he had heard of the airline attacks from his lawyers a few days earlier, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He had done his job, and no longer needed to keep the secret. His Christmas day bombing attempt had been little more than a diversion. It had been carefully designed to draw American attention away from the bigger mission, and it had worked perfectly. Thousands of infidels were now dead, and he was a hero. Umar got up from the floor and looked around the room. The sun was coming through his small cell window and he felt better than he had in weeks. He felt proud. He could now tell the world how he had fooled them all. Perhaps he would do it at his trial when all the cameras were rolling. Perhaps they would even find him not guilty! He picked up his breakfast tray and took a big bite of his toast. He was hungry after all, and no one made breakfast like the Americans.