TAMPA, FL – Life is pretty simple for a Transportation Security Officer at Tampa International Airport. The work of screening passengers is often tedious — checking identification cards, reminding travelers to remove shoes, and looking at X-Ray screens for hours. But last Wednesday that all changed for Officer Bob Hammond.
“Every day I come in and have a routine. I usually show up at least 15 minutes late. My supervisor usually chews me out for a bit, but I know it doesn’t matter,” he says, “Federal means you ain’t getting fired.”
Hammond sees the typical passengers. “We need to tell them to move quickly, remove the laptops, that sort of thing.”
Every once in a while, the routine is mixed up.
“Since we got these new full body scanners, there have been some folks refusing, so that means we do a pat-down. We also try to search what our agency has determined are ‘high-risk flyers’ — children, military members in dress uniform, grandmothers in wheelchairs, and Senator Rand Paul.”
Despite the occasional hiccup, Hammond had his routine down pat. On Wednesday however, Hammond encountered something he — nor any other TSA Officer had ever seen before — an actual terrorist.
Officer Bill Gibson was on the rotation for identification and boarding pass check that day.
“His name was Amad Shah Rabil. He had a large, baggy coat on. His ticket didn’t quite look right, and he had a big bulge from his chest area,” said Gibson. “Of course, we don’t want to profile Arabs or anything — we need to be fair to everyone. That’s why I marked up the 85-year old woman behind him for an extra pat-down. Her walker and courteous demeanor aroused my suspicions.”
At the time, Officer Hammond was conducting a routine strip search of two four-year old children when his attention was drawn to the passenger standing beside them. He then made eye contact with Rabil.
“He seemed very friendly. He had a well-groomed, red beard. He was wearing some “Death To America” button on his coat.. I don’t know, I thought it was a heavy metal band.”
Hammond described the rest of the passenger’s attire in detail.
“He was wearing a man-dress [known in the Middle East as a thawb] and a towel on his head [or keffiyeh],” said Hammond, but what really drew his attention to the man was “the large vest he was wearing with dynamite sticking out of it [koomabala kabiera].”
Hammond ultimately made the decision to pull him aside because of his one-way ticket.
Upon further questioning by TSA officers, the man admitted he planned to blow up an aircraft.
“We initially thought this was some kind of prank,” said Hammond, “like Sacha Baron Cohen or Jackass, but after a few hours of him explaining his plot, we stopped laughing. At that point we asked him to take off his suicide vest.”
An X-Ray of Mr. Rabil’s shoes revealed the presence of plastic explosives, which Hammond described as ‘mind-boggling’.
“Who knew our stuff could actually detect explosives. I thought the whole shoe-removal thing was some type of hygiene activity.”
Later, for what he describes as “shits and giggles”, Hammond had Mr. Rabil walk through one of the airport’s full body scanners, or “naked lady machine” as he called it, which further confirmed the presence of explosives on Rabil.
Rabil is currently being held in the Tampa USO Lounge under guard by an Army PFC until they can figure out what they are supposed to do with him next.
Duffel Blog Investigative Reporter G-Had also contributed to this report.