Earlier this month, Spanish authorities recovered a video illustrating a man guiding a large remote-controlled aircraft over southern Spain. At the pilots direction, the plane then slowly descended and dropped two small packages from both wings. Spanish authorities believe the video was recorded by an al Qaeda terrorist attempting to convert a toy plane into a deadly explosive. Three men were arrested, including Cengiz Yalkin, a Turkish National living in Spain as an al Qaeda cell facilitator, and two Chechen associates specializing in explosives.
Unfortunately, converting model air-crafts–originally intended for hobby purposes–into bombers is not unprecedented. In 2011, Rezwan Ferdaus, a Korean War veteran purchased miniature versions of the F-86 Sabre fighter jet, to build attack planes and destroy the Penatagon and U.S. Capitol with C-4 plastic explosives. He pleaded guilty last month. Before finding inspiration by al Qaeda's ideology, Ferdaus was a Northeastern University graduate with a degree in physics.
In 2008, Christopher Paul, a Columbus Ohio resident, pleaded guilty to planning terrorist plots in both the United States and Europe. Paul, who allegedly joined al Qaeda in the early 1990s, conducted extensive research from 2006, on numerous remote-controlled miniatures, including a boat and helicopter.
While the federal government, through the the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") fail to regulate the purchases of certain models, both Senator Charles Schumer (D- New York) and Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) have called for further regulations as a result of these models getting into the wrong hands, and creating catastrophic results, whether through deploying explosives or chemical materials. Since the September 11th attacks, federal agents have asked organizations and hobby shops, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, to report any suspicious purchasers of model planes with questionable intentions. However, the FAA has yet to implement any new regulations regarding the suspicious purchases of models for criminal use.
In an ironic twist, the Obama Administration is under scrutiny for continuing President George W. Bush's foreign policies in using drones for surveillance and missile strikes against terrorists. According to CNN, drones, which are similar to remote controlled air-crafts, have made "a dramatic impact in the campaign against al Qaeda and other terror groups in Pakistan -- and is now being expanded to the Horn of Africa." Drone strikes have increased from 52 during the Bush presidency, to an estimated 278 during the Obama administration.
The FAA should begin implementing regulations that will detect suspicious purchases of models. Hopefully, the FAA, organizations and hobby shop business owners are working with both federal and local law enforcement agencies in detecting such purchases. The government, without hindering miniature hobby enthusiasts, needs to continue developing protective measures to prevent potential attacks, as they did in 2008, 2011 and most recently in Spain.