West Islander Shama Chopra wasn’t surprised when U.S. drone aircraft killed alleged Al Qaeda militants in Yemen, last week, after a double agent tipped off American counterterrorist officials. The activists had reportedly designed a new type of underwear-bomb that would be fiendishly hard for airport security detectors to spot.
“They’re looking for all these terrorists in Yemen, because most of them are masters at making bombs,” said the only Canadian victim to testify at the recent trial of Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
On Christmas Day, 2009, Chopra was flying back from India to her Dollard des Ormeaux home following a visit with relatives, when Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear.
Chopra and the other passengers survived because the device failed to detonate. Instead, it caught fire, filling the fuselage with thick smoke and burning Abdulmutallab badly.
“We were in the process of landing at Detroit, and people were screaming, their children were crying and it was very chaotic on the plane,” recalled Chopra, a well-known classical Indian singer and a founder of the Hindu temple in Dollard des Ormeaux.
Chopra added that after the attack, aircrew brought Abdulmutallab to the front of the aircraft where she was seated.
“I could smell his charred flesh. He was completely burnt, except for his face. It was quite scary, but you have to be strong,” she said.
Ms. Chopra remains undeterred by her experience, which she calls the worst moment in her life.
“I flew home to Montreal later that day,” she told The Suburban in an interview, “and I boarded another commercial flight exactly one month later.”
Following her testimony at Abdulmutallab’s sentencing hearing in Detroit in February, Chopra crossed the courtroom floor to give him some Muslim prayer beads.
“I told him ‘I have already forgiven you’,” she explained.
Chopra again intervened after Abdulmutallab’s trial was over.
Last month, after she petitioned to have him transferred to a higher-security penitentiary, U.S. justice authorities moved the prisoner to the renowned Supermax facility in Colorado, known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies.
“I never thought that Al Qaeda would attack my home,” she added, “but it did.”
Chopra has since exchanged corespondence with Canadian authorities, asking Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Justice Minister Pete Nicholson to beef up Canada’s antiterrorism laws as well as enforcement and prosecution procedures.
“We have to respond to terrorism,” Chopra concluded. “Canada is being too soft and I am very much worried about this because if they can hit us at home, we have to be able to detect and prevent such acts.”
“My message is: keep flying.”