Terrorist grandmas?

January 25, 2002|By Janet Heller

SHORTLY AFTER Richard Reid tried to light the wires protruding from his shoes on an American Airlines fight from Paris to Miami, I took a flight from Baltimore to Detroit.

The power of suggestion being what it is, security personnel at BWI that day focused special attention on footwear. While hardly fitting the profile of a would-be terrorist, I was singled out to have my shoes examined - not once, but twice. A dubious honor for a grandmother who will never see 60 again.

While I stood in my stocking feet trying to look cooperative, my loafers traveled by the X-ray machine without setting off any alarms. But that apparently was not enough. I was told to continue waiting.

I silently fumed while the assorted belongings in the backpack of a little boy were methodically taken out and examined. Then it was my turn. Some kind of hand-held electronic "wand" was passed over my shoes and - abracadabra - nothing aroused suspicion. I finally was on my way.

More recently, I flew to Providence, R.I., for the day. I passed through security without a hitch at BWI. On my return flight, I not only was gone over by that electronic wand, but a female security guard was told to pat me down by hand. Go figure.

I described my airport encounters to a friend from Pakistan, now a U.S. citizen living in Baltimore. A grandmother of my vintage, she had a tale of her own, having recently been detained for several hours at the Buffalo airport.

The reason finally given by the airline was that her surname was the same as one of the September hijackers. What the folks in charge didn't know is that the name Khan in her part of the world is as common as Smith is in this country.

It is a monumental waste of time and money to focus on the likes of us. What kind of profile do we fit? The current crop of terrorists hate women and would never enlist their help. For that matter, have any of them been over 40?

And what terrorist is going to say that someone else packed his bag? That is, if he has one?

Janet Heller lives in Baltimore.

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