South Carolina police saw a Toyota Camry exceeding the speed limit Saturday night on U.S. Highway 176 near Goose Creek. That's where a Naval Weapons Station is, and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig: a military prison that's held enemy combatants.
The police officers got suspicious when the two men put laptop computers away - quickly - and couldn't come up with an explanation for why they were in the area, or "where they were going."
When a deputy saw something that looked like explosives, the police called in the bomb squad. Technicians identified the device as a pipe bomb.
Before information about the pipe bombs was released, the executive director of a civil rights organization for Muslims in Tampa criticized the arrest as racial profiling. South Carolina police, understandably, denied this charge.
"Definitely this is not related to terrorism," said Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Had these been two good ol' boys from South Carolina driving through and speeding - and even if they did have some fireworks - nobody would have been arrested," Bedier said.
Now, everyone who's seen Cool Hand Luke (1967) knows what southern lawmen are like. Or thinks they know.
Still, I can't help thinking that Ahmed Bedier might have been wiser to wait a little longer before making that "Good ol' boys" remark.
I think that everyone involved should take a cue from how local law enforcement seems to be handling this, take a deep breath, count slowly to ten, and **think**.
Here's what we have:
- A speeding car
- Near a military base with a connection to foreign combatants
- Two men of military age
- A laptop they tried to hide
- An explosive device
- The men can't say why they are there
- The men can't say where they're going
I think if they had been blond, blue-eyed giants named Leif and Sven, with southern-fried accents, they'd still be in trouble.
Like it or not, New York City is still rebuilding the area where the World Trade Center used to be, and Americans on the whole would prefer not to have another mess like that to clear up.
Ahmed Abda Sherf Mohamed said he made the devices in question from parts he bought at a Wal-Mart. That may be true. And remember: many fireworks are explosive devices.
The Kuwati and the Egyptian may have wanted to hide the laptop for cultural reasons that a westerner like me could never understand.
The young men may have intended to set off their device as a sort of fireworks display. I've heard of dumber things being done by men in that age group.
They may have become temporarily unable to remember why they were on that road, and what they were doing there. People have been known to get tongue-tied at the most inopportune times.
But, at best, circumstances put them in an extremely dubious position.
The courts can, I hope, sort this out.
Wild accusations of racism won't help, and neither will snap judgments of guilt.