American Airlines Mechanic Who Sabotaged Plane May Have ISIS Ties

American Airlines has been engaged in a pay dispute with their mechanics, which has led to a lot of hostility.

Earlier this month it was revealed that one Miami-based mechanic took it to the next level, when back in July he intentionally disabled the navigation system on a plane bound for Nassau. Fortunately the pilots discovered this before the plane took off, and the plane returned to the gate.

How The Mechanic Explains His Actions

Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani is the 60 year old mechanic behind all of this. He was born in Iraq and is a naturalized US citizen.

He told federal investigators that his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers. Rather he was upset over stalled contract negotiations between the mechanics union and management, saying that the dispute had affected him financially.

He claimed that he only did what he did in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work. In other words, he broke something so that he would be paid to fix it.

Something about the story didn’t quite make sense:

  • We know mechanics have been intentionally delaying flights out of spite, in order to prove a point to management
  • Because of this there has been tons of overtime available, and mechanics have largely been turning down overtime, again, to spite management; in other words, American’s problem has been that they have too much overtime available that people aren’t accepting, and not the inverse

Could The Mechanic Have Had Other Motives?

Yesterday Alani was denied bond during a hearing in a federal court. The reason? Because the judge decided that he posed a danger to the community and a flight risk, saying:

“I have evidence before me that suggests you could be sympathetic to terrorists.”

As reported by the Miami Herald:

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.

Given that he has family in Iraq, sending $700 doesn’t really sound that suspicious on the surface. However, an ISIS video of someone being shot in the head with the alleged message along with it is a different story…

The story also mentions how Alani earned an average of $9,400 per month as an American Airlines mechanic. That’s not relevant to this case specifically, but does show that overall senior mechanics are making six figures, which is noteworthy given the pay dispute.

What Can We Make Of All Of This?

Naturally people will probably have politicized takes on it. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this investigation, though I also wonder if they’ll actually truly get to the bottom of his intentions. He potentially faces 20 years in prison, if convicted.

Regardless of how you slice it, Alani didn’t really think this through:

  • I have a hard time believing this was done for extra overtime, since overtime at the airline was generally readily available; however, I could see this being done out of spite, with this obviously being one step way too far
  • I don’t want to be dark, but if a mechanic wanted to sabotage a plane and cause harm, then this doesn’t seem like a great strategy; it was highly likely an error message would come up when the pilots powered up the plane, and it did, while there are all kinds of things mechanics could do that could cause harm and that wouldn’t be as apparent to pilots

No matter what organization he had ties to, the act of intentionally putting the lives of 150 people at risk is an act of terrorism, as far as I’m concerned.

Is it possible he has ties to ISIS, and this was part of that? Yes.

Is it possible he somewhat sympathizes with ISIS, but this was just to spite the airline? Yes.

Is it possible he just shared a video in bad taste, and this was done to get overtime and/or to spite the airline? Yes.

This will be an interesting case to follow…

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