Vanishing Hitchhiker Joins MI5

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Sound familiar?

My friend's Aunt Sally was in a queue and this Middle Eastern-looking bloke in front of her dropped his wallet. When she gave it back to him, he told her to avoid central London on Saturday because something big might happen. Tell as many people as you can.

That's a British version of a durable urban legend. On this side of the sea, a terror-wary friend of mine once warned me about the dangers of staying in Baltimore one weekend; I assume alternate versions exist for Youngstown, Selma, and Duluth. Snopes has collected some more variations, some of which predate 9/11, and it notes that traces of the tale may go back to the Middle Ages.

According to the BBC, the U.K.'s former Home Secretary treated it as a serious piece of intelligence:

An entry in his newly-published diary reveals how he had spoken to an old school friend, who had heard the story involving the return of a wallet to an Arab man and a warning not to be in London on 11 November.

"I immediately registered the significance of this," Blunkett wrote at the time. "The 11th of November is Armistice Day, the one day in the year when all leading politicians from the three parties, the Queen, other members of the Royal family, and the leading personnel of the armed services are in the same place at the same time—a known time, in central London.

"I decided that I should at least tell Tony Blair as it was absolutely clear that nobody had fully thought through the significance.

"We agreed there was no way we could possibly cancel Armistice Day, but we were certainly going to have to take increased precautions."

In other news, President Bush has cancelled an appearance in New Orleans for fear that someone will steal his kidneys.

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  1. a friend of mine once warned me about the dangers of staying in Baltimore one weekend

    Baltimore is a dangerous place to stay every weekend.

  2. But did the genie also say “If you break the chain…”?

  3. A college roommate swore up and down that his friend’s mother paid $250 for a cookie recipe.

    I’m not sure if this has anything to do with terrorism, but we can’t be too careful. For the children.

  4. My favorate one is where someone returns a middle eastern man’s lost wallet. In return his gives them this warning, “Don’t eat at the Denny’s in Springfield.”
    “Why? Is there going to be an attack?”
    “No, the food’s crap.”

  5. Duluth, Minnesota or Duluth, Georgia?

  6. My friend’s Aunt Sally…

    I’m staying with Aunt Sally, but you know, she’s not really my aunt.

  7. similar themes popped up post 9/11 with stories of american muslims dancing and celebrating in the streets. the closest confirmed analog i’ve ever heard was from a friend who lived by journal square who watched a bunch of teenage kids shout “burn whitey, burn!” while the towers went down, but that’s teenagers for ya.

  8. Stay out of Washington DC next January 3rd.

    A gang is getting together their that day to extort money and threaten your livelihood and freedom.

  9. Youngstown might benefit by something like that.

    It’s not unusual to “get disappeared” in Y-town.

  10. There’s only one way to stop the terrorists: Conduct surveillance flights in a lawn chair held aloft by helium balloons.

  11. Ditto Timon19. It would be good advice to stay away anytime.

  12. There’s only one way to stop the terrorists: Conduct surveillance flights in a lawn chair held aloft by helium balloons.

    Shhhh. You are giving away our secrets!

  13. I heard that Osama bin Laden is terminally ill and collecting postcards.

  14. Al Queda owns all the fried chicken franchises…..pass it on……

  15. JD Hays:

    I have eaten at the Denny’s in Springfield and the food was great.

  16. On the other hand, the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot was revealed because one of the plotters warned a friend of his to stay away from Parliament.

  17. Guy Fawkes. The last man to enter Parliament with honorable intentions.

    Speak his name with reverence.

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