The threat of an al Qaeda attack using shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles has been of increasing concern to homeland security officials. Last year, the FBI arrested two imams in Albany, N.Y., in connection with a sting operation involving laundered funds that the defendants were led to believe were proceeds from the sale of a missile launcher to be used in a New York City terrorist plot. Federal prosecutors noted during the trial of convicted al Qaeda bomb plotter Wadih El-Hage that his role entailed "conveying military orders from Bin Laden including . . . seeking weapons including Stinger missiles for al Qaeda members." In 2002, al Qaeda terrorists used two Russian-made Strela missiles to try and bring down an Israeli-chartered airliner departing from Mombasa, Kenya.
That effort failed, but the terrorists will no doubt try, try again. Hundreds of Stinger missiles have gone missing since the first Persian Gulf War, according to the General Accounting Office. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted last year that "there are an estimated 300,000 to one million shoulder-fired missiles in the world today -- thousands are thought to be in the hands of terrorist and other non-state entities." Thomas B. Hunter of Jane's Intelligence Review reported: "Al-Qaeda reportedly possesses a number of MANPADs, including SA-7s and Stingers. . . . It is logical to assume that Al-Qaeda is in possession of additional MANPADs. If this is true, then Al-Qaeda represents the most significant threat to international civil aviation."
Washington has been squabbling over whether and how much money to spend on retrofitting all 6,000 planes in the American commercial fleet with electronic countermeasures to combat the threat. In the meantime, common-sense vigilance is the best defense.
Thankfully, military watchdogs on guard against Islamist terrorists with rocket launchers know better than to stop Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan look-a-likes with Louis Vuitton pet carriers strapped around their shoulders.