Alex Ritman discovers why he is met with suspicion at airports - his Casio watch is reportedly favoured by al Qa'eda
For some time, I've wondered why it is that I get stopped in airports with such regularity. At first I thought it was the beard, a rather shabby affair that has been my faithful facial companion for more than two years (16 in beard years). Then there's my favourite item of clothing, a somewhat scruffy leather jacket I tend to put on the instant I'm somewhere it's unlikely to melt on to my back.
But it turns out that this beard/leather jacket combo - surely a classic costume of the ne'er do well - isn't the main reason that almost every holiday or foreign jaunt begins and ends with a friendly grilling at passport control. No, it's my watch. My cheap, plastic Casio watch, which - unbeknownst to me until now - also happens to be the timepiece du jour among the terrorist community.
According to a report leaked from Guantánamo Bay, the Casio F-91W - unassuming, black and plastic, but a bona fide classic among digital-watch connoisseurs and a model that has sold millions across the world since it was launched in 1991 - is "the sign of al Qa'eda". The documents, which were obtained by The Guardian, suggest that approximately one-third of Guantánamo detainees captured with these models of watch have "known connections to explosives, either having attended explosives training, having association with a facility where IEDs were made or where explosives training was given, or having association with a person identified as an explosives expert".
As the report continues, it's not just a happy coincidence or a fashion fad among al Qa'eda members; the watches are actually part of the programme.
"The Casio was known to be given to the students at al Qa'eda bomb-making training courses in Afghanistan at which the students received instruction in the preparation of timing devices using the watch."
Does this mean that al Qa'eda is cheap? The watch, which has a battery life of around seven years, can be bought for about Dh10 with the right amount of haggling. Or does the international terror outfit simply appreciate the watch's retro aesthetics? Despite having been a constant seller across the globe, the model recently received an upsurge in popularity from hipsters, drawn to its simple design and "cool because it's not cool" appeal. I've owned a few Casio F-91Ws in my time (but all legitimately bought and none having been received at a bomb-making facility, just in case you were wondering). It was among my first digital watches, and one that led to a mild obsession that continues to this day. Despite having managed to advance my wardrobe from silly T-shirts to less-silly T-shirts and even the occasional shirt, the one thing that has remained constant is my watch, which is generally always cheap, always digital and, quite often, a bit too colourful.
Being able to draw from a relatively sizeable collection, I'm not sure al Qa'eda is using the best model for its aims. OK, the F-91W may be a design legend, but surely a calculator watch - in particular the Casio Databank with its multilingual display, number storage facilities and handy light - would be a far more terrorist-friendly tool (although it might want to avoid my luminous pink and somewhat eye-catching version). Or, perhaps it tried it, but when needing to make some bomb-based equations at a crucial moment, found the buttons rather too small for your average terrorist digit.
Then there's the watch I found that reads out the time in a laughable robotic voice. Its battery life may be a bit shoddy, leading to a gradual reduction in the voice quality and speed until it sounds somewhat like Marvin the Paranoid Android on a very bad day, but I'm sure there's something in the vocal software that could be given an evil terrorist twist.
And what about the watch with the built-in remote control, the scourge of living rooms in the 1980s? Surely the al Qa'eda tech department could have a field day with this one.
As it turns out, al Qa'eda and I share a love of not one, but two Casio models. While 32 detainee reports refer to the F-91W, a further 20 point to the A-159W, its silvery cousin, which I also happen to own. Perhaps the silver ones - which cost a few dirhams more - are given to team leaders.
In any case, while I've always wanted to visit Cuba and usually jump at a free flight, orange jumpsuits really aren't my thing. I may be just one of millions across the world with a fondness for cheap Casio digital watches, but at airports - simply because explaining the number of Middle East stamps in my passport has become a slightly tiresome pastime - it's time I lost the timepiece. Knowing my luck, the next report will suggest that the most popular shoes among al Qa'eda operatives are battered white pumps.