Afternoon read: Dutch teen finds bomb-threat tweet no joke to American Airlines

c. 2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Youthful pranks in the age of Twitter are no laughing matter, especially if you are a 14-year-old Dutch girl impersonating a terrorist.

When the girl, using the Twitter handle @QueenDemetriax_, sent a threat to American Airlines on Sunday, she surely could not have imagined that by Tuesday she would be arrested by the Rotterdam police, attract a global media storm and become the object of both fierce derision and sympathy.

The episode began when the girl, who posted under the name Sarah, sent a message to the American Airlines Twitter account. “Hello my name's Ibrahim and I'm from Afghanistan,” it read. “I'm part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I'm gonna do something really big bye.”

Six minutes later, she had her reply from the airline: “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” That, in turn, prompted the girl to write a series of frantic and panicked tweets, pleading, “I'm just a girl.”

“I'm so sorry I'm scared now,” she posted, insisting variously that her original message had been a joke, that it had emanated from a friend's Internet protocol, or IP, address, and that her account had been hacked. “My parents are gonna kill me if I tell them this omg pls,” she wrote, before adding: “I need a lawyer. Any lawyers on here?”

The Rotterdam Police Department said Tuesday that she could face criminal charges for posting a false or alarming announcement. Tinet de Jonge, a spokeswoman for the department, said by phone that the girl had been released Monday but remained a suspect, pending an investigation. She said it was up to American Airlines to decide whether to press charges.

“Some people think it's fun to send a threatening message on Twitter,” she said. “But American Airlines didn't think it was funny at all.”

Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, declined to comment on how the carrier might proceed. Dozens of threatening copycat tweets had been sent to the airline by Tuesday.

As the exchange spread online, the girl acquired thousands of new followers and appeared to at least momentarily revel in the attention.

She offered to auction her Twitter handle and suggested $500 as the starting bid. “I feel famous omg,” she wrote. Her Twitter account has since been suspended.

The girl's father defended her, telling the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad on Tuesday that his daughter was a typical teenager, not a criminal. “It was just a joke, from a girl who should have been doing her homework,” he said.

He said he had not been aware that she had drawn global attention.

The Dutch girl is not the first person for whom a Twitter message has backfired spectacularly. In 2012, two British tourists spent 12 hours behind bars after landing in Los Angeles, after writing in a tweet in jest that they planned to “destroy America” and “dig up Marilyn Monroe” while on vacation, according to The Telegraph, a British newspaper.

The newspaper noted that the American authorities did not understand that “destroy” was slang for “party.”

Last modified: April 16. 2014 1:30PM
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