Paying Cash For A Ticket Not Necessarily A 'Red Flag' About Abdulmutallab

President Barack Obama and many, many others have said that there were more than enough dots that should have been connected long before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got on an airplane in Amsterdam and allegedly tried to blow it up as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day.

One of the "red flags" that gets mentioned in every account of Abdulmutallab's actions is that he paid cash — about $2,800 — for the tickets he bought in Accra, Ghana, eight days before beginning his trip with a stopover in Lagos, Nigeria.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, paying cash for tickets has been among the tell-tale signs that security officials in the U.S. look for when screening for potential terrorists.

But is it that unusual for travelers in some parts of the world to pay cash, even large amounts, for airplane tickets?


As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton told me today in an e-mail, in countries such as Ghana "many people will have to convert the local currency into cash, and into dollars, to be able to pay for their tickets" to international destinations either because they don't have credit cards that can be used in such transactions or because many airlines are wary of fraudulent cards. And, she said, "the amounts can easily exceed the $2,800 Abdulmutallab is said to have paid."

"I very much doubt that would have raised any suspicion at all," Ofeibea added. "There were probably others around him paying equivalent or higher sums in cash for their tickets."

For a second opinion, I turned to journalist David Field, an independent airline observer who I worked with several years back at USA TODAY.

He also said that in Africa it wouldn't have been unusual at all for a traveler such as Abdulmutallab to pay in cash. But, as you'll hear, David pointed out that if — as has been reported — Abdulmutallab had no luggage, that would be a true "red flag":



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Update at 5:23 p.m. ET: Ofeibea agrees with David on the point about luggage, adding that excess baggage would not have caused raised eyebrows — but that it's rare to see international travelers without at least a roll-on carry-on bag and a briefcase, purse or laptop bag.

Also, earlier we said Abdulmutallab had one-way tickets. As NBC's Pete Williams says, though, the latest reporting indicates that Abdulmutallab had a one-way ticket from Ghana to Nigeria and round-trip tickets from there on to Detroit. One-way trips can also be "red flags."

As Frank reported a short time ago, Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was indicted by a federal grand jury today. The six counts against him include "attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction."



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