Analysts and officials are puzzling over what caused an EgyptAir flight to disappear from radar screens on Thursday. The jet, carrying 66 people, appears to have crashed while en route from Paris to Cairo shortly after entering Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.
The Airbus A320 is considered safe, reliable and capable of multiple short-haul trips in a day. Hence, top officials are considering the likelihood of foul play or terrorism.
“The information we have gathered confirms, alas, that this plane has crashed, and it has disappeared,” French President François Hollande said at a news conference. “No theory is ruled out and none is certain right now."
Egypt's aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, was more blunt. “If you analyze the situation properly, the possibility of having a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical” problem, he told reporters.
But before any of these statements were made, another high-profile politician seemed even more certain of terrorism: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. He tweeted the following in the early American morning:
Looks like yet another terrorist attack. Airplane departed from Paris. When will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2016
To be sure, Trump is dabbling in speculation -- the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 only "looks like" a terrorist attack. But instead of offering condolences to those likely lost aboard the missing plane, or expressing solidarity with the governments now conducting a desperate search mission, the reality-show star aspiring to be leader of a world superpower played politics.
"Airplane departed from Paris," Trump wrote. "When will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!" Here's what he was inferring:
1. Because the flight left from Paris, the terrorist plotters probably came from there.
2. This clearly means there were security lapses in Europe. What do we need to be tough and vigilant about? Perhaps the Muslims in our midst, as Trump similarly stressed in the wake of November's Paris attacks and the terrorist spree in Brussels in March. He used those attacks to both inveigh against accepting Syrian refugees and to champion the use of torture and racial profiling.
3. The "hate and sickness" Trump refers to is his now-longstanding diagnosis of what he sees ailing Islam and the Muslim world. (WorldViews has taken his rhetoric to task repeatedly, such as here and here.)
At a moment when panicked families were rushing to find more information from authorities, Trump thought it appropriate to trot out his campaign talking points.
Never mind that Trump probably has no immediate access to the specific information being sifted and gathered by French, Egyptian and Greek investigators. Never mind that he has no jurisdiction over security matters in these countries.
Never mind that we have no idea yet what the hypothetical motives of a phantom militant group may be. And never mind that counterterrorism experts and an array of commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have poured cold water on Trump's proposed policies, such as they are.
But, given the vast number of retweets his missive garnered in the morning, Trump certainly has an audience, both domestically and abroad. And his purported enemies are listening, too.
In the wake of the Brussels terrorist assault, a media wing of the Islamic State put out a video hailing the success of the attack. One measure of their supposed triumph: a sound bite from Trump, bemoaning the fall of a great European capital.
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