Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Syrian singer of a band that was detained by the FBI’s Terrorism Task Force for suspicious activity during a recent flight to Los Angeles has written about the “glorification” of suicide bombers to liberate Palestine.

Singer Nour Mehana’s latest album includes the song “Um El Shaheed,” or “Mother of a Martyr,” said Aluma Dankowitz of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The song tells the story of a woman who mourned her son’s death until she realized that “he died for a good cause and he should be glorified for what he did,” said Miss Dankowitz, who translated the song for The Washington Times.

Mr. Mehana, widely known as the Syrian Wayne Newton, sings to the mother that her son’s goals are heroic and she should be happy he is dead.

“The song opens with the depiction of a mother crying over her son. He has said goodbye to his friends and family and is not going to come back. He went with a weapon in one palm and his heart in another palm and he’s not going to come back,” Miss Dankowitz said. “He went to fight to free Palestine, Golan Heights and South Lebanon.”

The song ends with chants of “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” a common Muslim expression. Those were the last words shouted by a September 11 hijacker before the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field and have been the last words of many suicide bombers in Israel.

Mr. Mehana’s 14 Syrian band members were detained by officials June 29 upon deplaning Northwest Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, for acting in a suspicious manner that concerned the flight crew and air marshals on board.

Meanwhile, federal officials were summoned to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief Senate and House Judiciary Committee staff in response to reports of the incident, and the Federal Air Marshals Association requested a meeting with top officials in the Homeland Security Department.

Passenger Annie Jacobsen reported earlier this month in Women’s Wall Street that the Syrians consecutively filed in and out of restrooms, stood nearly the entire flight in congregations of two and three, carried a McDonald’s bag into the lavatory and passed it to another Syrian, and carried cameras and cellular phones to the restroom.

Just before landing, seven of the men jumped up in unison and went inside the restrooms. Upon returning to his seat, one man mouthed the word “no” as he ran his finger across his throat.

The men were flying on a one-way ticket via Northwest, and returning on a one-way ticket aboard JetBlue.

An Immigration Customs Enforcement official said Monday the men had overstayed their visit and should have returned on June 10, but a Homeland Security Department spokesman said they learned late Tuesday that an extension had been granted through July 15.

Officials called to Capitol Hill included Randy Beardsworth, director of Homeland Security’s Operations, Border and Transportation Security Office; Thomas Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshals Service; and Willie Hulon, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

One staffer who attended the briefing said officials were “very cagey” on details, which he described as “very frustrating.”

However, the officials confirmed air marshals found the activities unusual and suspicious.

“They are trying to have it both ways and say yes, our people are smart enough to see something and that’s why they called for authorities, but they deny it was as scary as it has been portrayed,” the staffer said.

Homeland Security officials say they have no intelligence that terrorists are conducting dry runs on airplanes.

Federal air marshals and pilots also back Mrs. Jacobsen’s account as similar to other incidents, and say terrorists constantly are probing security.

The Federal Air Marshals Association yesterday requested a meeting with top Homeland Security officials to discuss the issue of terrorist dry runs.

“A test run for terrorism is not to be ignored,” said Bob Flamm, director of the association. “When a citizen stands up and speaks out in regard to air safety, it is the responsibility of law-enforcement officials involved to seek out the truth and not bury it.”

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