A recent news post in the Portland Press Herald (August 19, 2009) entitled "FBI enlisting aid of Somalis in Lewiston" states that the FBI is concerned that terrorist groups active in Somalia and elsewhere may try to recruit Somali immigrants living in Maine to receive training and then conduct terrorist attacks here in the United States. Somali immigrants tend to live in group communities across the United States - some in Boston, some in Portland and Lewiston and others in Minnesota. About eight Somalis living in Minnesota were recently recruited by a terrorist group, traveled to Somalia and received terrorist training. Some have already died carrying out attacks on behalf of terrorist groups in Somalia. Others are unaccounted for and they are causing worry among law enforcement officials here in the United States.
This is a particular concern for Portland. A favorite target of terrorists are airports and airplanes. A lot of people can be killed all at once if an airplane is brought down by a bomb placed somewhere on the aircraft by a airplane cleaner, maintenance worker, or baggage handler. A downed airliner generates lots of fear and publicity. The ringleader of the 9/11 attacks boarded an aircraft here in Portland, Maine and subsequently that plane flew into one of the 9/11 targets in September 2001.
Why should we be concerned about this? Have you traveled through the Portland JetPort lately? Check out who is working behind the cash register in the passenger waiting area past the security checkpoints. Take notice of who is loading the luggage on and off the airplanes on the secured area of the airfield. Have you taken a cab lately from the airport? A very large percentage of the airport workers who have access to secured areas of the airport are Somali Muslims recently arrived from Somalia.
Every airport has security personnel that check your airline ticket and identification to ensure you are who you say you are prior to entering the secured waiting area of an airport. At one point in time - just one or two years ago in the Portland Airport - the person checking your drivers license was a contract security guard. And who were some of the security guards checking passenger's identification to help screen out potential terrorists? You guessed it. Young Muslim Somali immigrants who were just learning the English language, who no doubt had relatives living in Maine and Somalia who could be threatened and thereby coerce Somali airport workers into providing assistance to a terrorist group. Now we have TSA employees doing the document checks - but for two or three years this was an open opportunity for a terrorist group to exploit a potential security weakness. Where was the common sense factor during that timeframe?
Do we have a potential problem here? Should the FBI be concerned about recruitment of Somali Muslims living in Portland and working in the secured areas of our airport? Should the security manager for the Portland airport be re-evaluating his security program? I say a loud "YES" to all three questions.