American Airlines Mechanic Who Sabotaged Plane May Have ISIS Ties

Filed Under: American

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…

Comments
  1. Whichever it is (spite or terrosim)… its pretty clear he didn’t want to Make American Great Again.

    I’ll see myself out.

  2. Can we please get back to trip reports and discussions of which wine is best in first class. This kind of thing is not what I want to think about when I come to this site. People will start arguing politics and all that. The guy thankfully got caught and is in custody. Let the courts figure out what to do with him.

  3. ” earned an average of $9,400 per month” now is that he actual gross , or are they including the benefits that are listed separately on the paystubs?

  4. @Memento — While I love trip reports, I think Lucky’s take on this kind of stuff is valuable and well within the core mission of the blog given that this is clearly an aviation story–moreover one that’s relevant to helping people understand the dispute between AA and its mechanics, which directly affects the passenger experience on AA. This thing with the mechanic also isn’t overtly politicized (in the sense that it doesn’t involve Donald Trump or any Republicans or Democrats).

    @Lucky — I’d be careful about giving too much credence to mere allegations put forward at a bail hearing. As a defense lawyer, I’ve observed that the government often oversells its case at the bail stage because there’s really no professional consequence if they turn out to be wrong. Representations by government attorneys about hearsay statements (so called hearsay on hearsay) are extremely unreliable. I represented a client that the United States accused of being a serial killer based on hearsay — and after the client spent years in jail, with major media organizations reporting horrible things, it was finally revealed that the whole case was a sham, and a federal court acquitted him of all charges and released him from custody.

    Trying to draw inferences from people’s Internet history or cell phone records can also be misleading. Maybe he looked at an ISIS video because he sympathizes. Or maybe a friend shared it with him to impress upon him the horrors of what ISIS is up to. Maybe he just followed a link from a news site and was so horrified he couldn’t watch it–but it was already downloaded on his phone. We really don’t know, and if you look through anyone’s web history, you’ll find all kinds of crazy or embarrassing things — many if which the viewer doesn’t necessarily “condone.”

    What this guy did is obviously criminal conduct, but I’m not persuaded that terrorism (or sympathy to ISIS) is any part of the motivation. My guess is the government is just seeking leverage in plea negotiations and he’ll end up pleading guilty to a non-terrorism aviation interference offense.

  5. I read Gary’s piece, which questioned the government’s assertions.
    And now you see Lucky pandering to the MAGA crowd.
    I am out. I guess Lucky can attract the pro-Trump crowd, with these hidden insinuations (‘born in Iraq, naturalized’. When does that ever get said about a white-skinned person?).
    As Gary said, this is laughable. Any thinking person knows the government does not actually care about the people. This government only cares about one thing: the approval of its egoistical megalomaniac leader

  6. @ James — When one of the accusations against him was that he sent money to Iraq, you don’t think it’s worth pointing out that he is actually from there? I have to say, I don’t often get accused of “pandering to the MAGA crowd.”

  7. John and Troy, sorry for posting my opinion. I had to click on it in order to read and form an opinion. Of late I personally feel that this site has lost sight of it’s core appeal. I really enjoy the trip reports and the wacky opinions about certain failed airline start ups. It is helpful to read posts by an expert on how to select a good flight or hotel, or even the substance behind choosing a good credit card. I do not enjoy the credit card sales pitches and stories about how some malcontent might have actually been an ISIS sympathizer. Again, pardon me for voicing an opinion. I share it for Lucky and perhaps to validate other people who share the same basic point of view.

  8. Glad to hear AA fired this loser, and his certificate revoked, whatever his intentions. He will probably spend the rest of his life in jail, where he rightfully belongs. What if the plane had gone down? Would we be here splitting hairs about how this is a trifling little labor dispute and he really didn’t mean any harm?

  9. whether this man has ties to ISIS or not, what he tired to do, makes him a terrorist. To cushion his act with there was a back up is despicable. So close, I can only imagine chills running up and down the spine of every passenger and pilot/s, and the easy way this terrorist attempted to sabotage the plane — should never have been on the news.

  10. act of terrorism is defined as a calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear. Whether this man has a connection to ISIS or not, what he attempted to do is an act of terrorism. Chills will most likely run up and down the spines of all the passengers and pilot/s every time they think about this as a reminder of just how easy sabotaging a plane actually is, which should never have been reported in such detail on the news. To cushion this act in any way is despicable. For anyone to go to such lengths is, on a smaller scale, like trying to shoot a stranger walking down the street who was lucky enough the attempt failed, all because the shooter couldn’t kill their boss. Asymmetrical acts of violence is Terrorism, and whether or not this man identified with a terrorist group, or not, anyone willing to go to such lengths is too dangerous to walk free ever again. He has crossed a line from which he cannot return, just as a terrorist does. To use such an insidious method, with full knowledge of the consequences, is like leaving a suitcase with a bomb in a crowded area, then walking away. With a luck, it’ll be found in time. But doesn’t change the intent one bit.

  11. Thanks for this, I appreciate you reporting on things like this, and I appreciate you reporting facts and not being biased (contrary to what other people commenting seem to think), it’s one of the reasons I value this blog very highly.

  12. @memento
    You did not have to click on the article or form an opinion about it. If you come on the site primarily to read reviews about first class and to get travel tips, it’s evident from the title of this article that the content will not suit your preference. I agree with the other posters, you did not have to click on anything…move along.

    Regarding the article itself, I agree that whatever the guy’s affiliation or motivation or intention, he should be charged with a crime.

  13. And now we get the 2nd most (ab)used tactics behind the race card, the terrorist card.

    Lucky for us, African Terrorist organization hasn’t made it to the international scene yet. Otherwise Michael Brown and Eric Garner would have ties to terrorists.

  14. Unfortunate post … racist..
    Leave this for FBI and CIA to determine rather than coming to conclusions yourself and on top writing a post about it

  15. Although I probably do not share the same political view with Lucky, I don‘t see discrimination in this article. Sure, we cannot suspect someone is terrorist simply because of his nationality/race/religion, but that is also not the reason we should ban any logical skepticism against him, and the way Lucky draws his conclusion here is fair enough.

  16. Funny to see people get so mad at Lucky for posting about this. I fail to see how this is *not* aviation related.

    Can’t wait to hear Ilhan Omar cry “racism” over his denied bail. What an absolute joke.

    As others have said, regardless of his alleged ties to known criminal groups – he is a terrorist by sole virtue of his act. If that word triggers your liberal sensibilities, too bad.

  17. There is nothing biased or racist about Lucky’s post. It’s about as objective as it can be, even mentioning that someone can simultaneously be a potential terrorist and also only intend to get some extra overtime in this particular case. At this point, we truly don’t know. And even an alleged terrorist is innocent until proven guilty in this country. But with the past behavior demonstrated by the government, he’s going to have to stay in jail until his guilt is proven one way or the other. Reporting fact is not bias. Reporting facts is not racist. Lucky could teach pretty much every talking head on TV news a lesson in objectivity and factual reporting.

  18. @Lucky — the multiple comments regarding clicking on this article and commenting reminds me of a question that I had posed recently about *how* I can get notified of *new* comments that get posted on a thread that I merely want to read, but do *not* want to comment on!

    I tried to just register my email address without posting a comment, but that didn’t work! So in order for me to follow this article’s feedback thread, I *must* post *something,* whether I want to, or *not*!

    Can this shortcoming somehow get fixed?

  19. No i don’t think this senior AA ex-mechanic has ties to ISIS or was a terrorist although he is from Irak,sent money there and has an arabic name.
    I just think he sabotaged a plane because he forgot how well paid he was and became spoilt wanting more and more as a Unon member.Anyway the investigation is pending so no one knows for sure.
    I am surprised that this is a subject for “One Mile at A Time” and not for instance the recent arrest of a Travel Agent who stole 47 millions of Delta miles with a suspected huge scam.

  20. @Caroline — “No i don’t think this senior AA ex-mechanic has ties to ISIS or was a terrorist although he is from Irak,sent money there and has an arabic name.”

    Are you making this claim based on Political Correctness, or do you know something deeper that Federal investigators don’t? I originally also gave this guy a “benefit of the doubt,” … until information came out about his interests in ISIS and his family member(s) in Iraq with ISIS connections!
    ———————
    “I am surprised that this is a subject for “One Mile at A Time” and not for instance the recent arrest of a Travel Agent who stole 47 millions of Delta miles with a suspected huge scam.” …
    “I think that this story is more relevant to this blog which touches upon the theme of Miles& Points than the story of the ex Mechanic.” —

    I *strongly* disagree! I think that *both* are important! The AA ex-mechanic story serves to re-awaken everyone in USA (but especially airline/airport workers) who have become, once again, complacent after so many years since 2001 Sept 11!

  21. @Caroline — Air travel *safety* should *always* be a priority on aviation travel blogs, such as this one, since it can potentially affect so much of the traveling public! On the other hand, the scam theft of 47 million Delta miles affects only those who are members of Delta’s frequent flyer program …

  22. @BillC,AA has been complaining for some time that some of its mechanics ‘Unions are sabotaging aircrafts to cause delays & cancellations so i am not a member of the FBI but i think accusing an ex mechanic of being an ISIS member like some medias do before the investigation is completed just because the guy is of Arabic descent is a bit too easy.
    My guess is that he was greedy despite his big salary and wanted more money in paid overtime work to fix the damages he had himself caused to the aircraft.
    This might also have been a a” strategy” for AA mechanics who sabotaged aircrafts to get extra overtime paid work.
    In my opinion AA should try to prove this in order to get rid of this “strategy”.

  23. @Caroline — “… i think accusing an ex mechanic of being an ISIS member like some medias do before the investigation is completed just because the guy is of Arabic descent is a bit too easy.”

    But the problem is that they *did* find incriminating evidence of that ex-mechanic’s interests in ISIS within his smartphone (via video clip), and of his family member(s) in Iraq with possible ISIS connections!

    I would agree with you that there have been disgruntled AA mechanics making this, that, or other types of threats, and causing departure delays, but this ex-mechanic confessed to his sabotage action, and he happened to possess personally incriminating evidence of ISIS interests within his smartphone — *that* was what nailed him! He was *not* singled out because of his race, since he was identified through security cameras that showed his unusual “stunted” walking style. Furthermore, federal investigations into personal motivations behind such sabotage-related actions are part of standard operating procedures, anyway, so he was *not* specifically profiled based on his race!

  24. **correction** Thanks for the realistic view on all the possibilities and NOT taking a hop on the jump to conclusions mat.

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