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Thursday, July 14, 2005
Houston Rapper Fired As Baggage Screener
HOUSTON -- When Bassam Khalaf raps, he's the Arabic Assassin. His unreleased CD, "Terror Alert," includes rhymes about flying a plane into a building and descriptions of himself as a "crazy, suicidal Arabic ... equipped with bombs."
Until last week, Khalaf also worked as a baggage screener at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
"I've been screening your bags for the past six months, and you don't even know it," said Khalaf, who also said Thursday that he is not really a terrorist and that his rhymes are exaggerations meant to gain publicity.
Andrea McCauley, a spokeswoman for the regional Transportation Security Administration office in Dallas, said the agency checks criminal records before hiring screeners, but it does not investigate what people do in their spare time.
"We have eyes and ears in the workplace," McCauley said. "Once we discovered these Web sites, we fired him."
An Internet search of Khalaf's name brings up Web sites that feature his obscene, violent and misogynistic raps that threaten to fly a plane into a building on Sept. 11, 2005.
Khalaf, 21, was hired on Jan. 16 and fired July 7, according to a TSA termination letter that cited his "authorship of songs which applaud the efforts of the terrorists on September 11th, encourage and warn of future acts of terrorism by you, discuss at length and in grave and alarming detail various criminal acts you intend to commit, state your belief that the U.S. government should be overthrown, and finally warn that others will die on September 11, 2005."
Khalaf, who was born in Houston and is of Palestinian descent, said working as a baggage screener was the best paying job he's ever had. He said he hoped to use any extra money he earned to produce his CD.
"I kept my music and my job separate. I told a couple of people who I thought was cool with me at work that I rapped, but I never sat there and told them lyrics or anything," said Khalaf. "I guess somebody probably told them that I had a Web site."
Khalaf said his terrorist-themed rhymes are more about marketing. He called his songs art and pointed to other rappers who have rhymed about terrorism. He specifically cites Eminem's song, "My Dad's Gone Crazy," which discusses blowing everything on the map up except Afghanistan and says: "There's no tower too high, no plane that I can't learn how to fly."
"Controversy sells," Khalaf said. "It brings a lot of attention. Everybody wants to label all Arabics terrorists just because a couple of people messed up. Well, I'm going to play along with that character. I'm going to let you think I'm one."