Bulletin on red flag #2: Nigerian colleagues of my wife, a nurse-midwife at Newark Beth Israel Hospital, say that everyone in Nigeria pays cash for airplane tickets (and virtually everything else). According to the website CreditCards, at the end of 2007 there were an estimated 95,000 credit cards and 512,000 debit cards in Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people. The site also reports that according to research firm The Lafferty Group, in Nigeria "credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few upscale hotels" - language identical to that which appears on the State Department web page for Nigeria, which warns more broadly:
Nigeria is a cash economy, and it is usually necessary to carry sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit, which makes travelers an attractive target for criminals. Credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few upscale hotels. Due to credit card fraud in Nigeria and by cohorts in the United States, credit card use should be considered carefully.So while the son of a banker might indeed own a credit or debit card, he would probably not use it to buy a plane ticket -- and would certainly raise no alarms by paying cash.
Makes a person wonder: do we know for sure that Abdulmutallab had "no luggage" as well? Would that include carry-on? Lots of people take long trips these days without checking a bag.
UPDATE and CORRECTION, 4:45 ET: Thanks to commenter Along, below, for pointing out an important error on my part: though Abdulmutallab flew from Lagos, "The round-trip ticket was purchased in Accra, Ghana, not in Nigeria. But Ghana has a similar credit card atmosphere according to the State Dept.: 'Use of credit cards in Ghana should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud.'" A detailed account in the Nigerian publication The Nation confirms that Abdulmutallab bought a round-trip ticket (in Accra, on Dec. 16, without leaving a home address or phone number) and adds, "The passenger did not check in any baggage but was spotted with a shoulder bag."