The Spam That Saved Lives

If you have a mobile phone, you’ve probably, on occasion, received an unwanted text from an unknown number, promoting something or with news that’s too good to be true. That’s spam — text spam, in this case — and it’s pretty common. According to AARP, in North America alone, spammers send 45 million unwanted texts each day. And spam texts aren’t just limited to the United States, Canada, and Mexico; they’re a global problem.

And you should be thankful for that — if you were one of many who rang in the new year in Moscow as 2010 gave way to 2011.

On January 24, 2011, a pair of suicide bombers claimed the lives of 35 other people (and injured 173 others) at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport. The party taking credit for the attack was a group called Caucasus Emirate, a militant Jihadist organization which has since folded (its membership, by and large, has joined ISIS). But the airport attack wasn’t their only effort to bring terror to the region; they claimed credit for about a half-dozen other bombings from 2009 to 2014.

And they would have carried out more had they been able. We know this because, according to the Telegraph, a member of the Caucasus Emirate “intended to detonate a suicide belt on a busy square near Red Square on New Year’s Eve in an attack that could have killed hundreds.” The terrorist cell, not having the income streams to invest in sophisticated military equipment, hoped to do so with cheap technology. Their plan was to send a suicide bomber into the crowd of revelers while a second terrorist kept watch. The second person would try to determine when the bomb would do the most harm, and then send a signal to the would-be suicide bomber. That signal, per their plan, was to come in the form of a text message — a suicide bomber carried a cheap mobile phone which acted as a detonator, triggered by an SMS sent by the lookout.

That’s where things went wrong for our malfeasors. The woman who was sacrificing herself to further these evil ends made a critical mistake — she turned on the phone before she and her partners left their safe house in Moscow. While still at their base, per, “a spam message wishing her a happy new year caused [the bomb] to go off earlier than planned, instantly killing her” — and sparing everyone else.

Bonus fact: Mixed-martial-arts fighter Roy MacDonald had thirteen matches in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) circuit from 2010 to 2016. As he entered the arena for each fight, the organizers would play some walk-out music on the PA system. The fighters picked the music themselves… usually. The standard operating procedure was for the organizer to text the fighters, asking them what song they wanted for that match, which would have been fine for MacDonald. But at some point during his UFC career, MacDonald switched phone numbers. For a few fights, organizers were texting the new owner of his former number — some guy named Jason that MacDonald had never met — and Jason, pretending to be MacDonald, picked the music.

From the Archives: We Won’t Give Up Until You Bleed: In Sweden, blood donors get a thank-you text message everytime their blood is used to help save another.