Thursday, December 08, 2005

Caving in to pressure

An agitated passenger who claimed to have a bomb in his backpack was shot and killed by a federal air marshal yesterday after he bolted frantically from an American Airlines jet that was boarding for takeoff at Miami International Airport. No bomb was found subsequently.

It was the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that an air marshal had shot at anyone, said Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Doyle. Another federal official said there was no apparent link to terrorism.

According to a witness, the passenger ran down the aisle of the Boeing 757, flailing his arms, while his wife tried to explain that he was mentally ill and had not taken his medication. The passenger, identified as Rigoberto Alpizar, "uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb," said James Bauer, agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshals field office in Miami. He was confronted by air marshals but ran off the aircraft. Doyle said the marshals went after him and ordered him to get down on the jetway, but he did not comply and was shot when he apparently reached into the bag.

It is easy to blame the counter-terror experts in such instances. More than that it would be convenient, but considering the merits of the case and given that the war on terror is ultimately an unequal one, what were they supposed to do? What if Alpizar had been a terrorist? Shooting him down and protecting an aircraft-load of passengers would have earned the force accolades, no doubt. After all, his actions pointed definitely to his being a menace.

Cases of officers wilting under pressure are not uncommon. A day after the bombings in London on July 7 this year, Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by anti-terror police at Stockwell tube station. The move invoked widespread condemnation from across the globe, though no-one said what the police can do in such trying circumstances.

In India too, cases of suicide among paramilitary forces abound. Dubbed fragging, it involves the jawan killing a senior/colleague before training the gun on himself. It is particularly common in strife-torn areas like J&K and the North-East. Potential causes are stressful environs, separation from family, incompatibility with seniors and inadequate benefits.

No comments: