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On Northwest Flight 253, Overreaction -- and Racial Profiling?

Sunday's incident – or non-incident – aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit raises some key questions: Did passengers overreact – and engage in racial profiling?

Here are the key details: During Sunday's flight to Detroit, a Nigerian businessman got up from his seat, went to the bathroom and, apparently, stayed too long. The flight's passengers and crew – and, certainly, anyone with a television, radio or Internet access – was already on edge because of Friday's incident in which Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, allegedly tried to ignite explosives aboard the same flight from Amsterdam. The crew aboard Sunday's flight radioed for emergency vehicles to be on the tarmac during landing at Detroit's international airport. Exactly what happened to the businessman in the minutes before and during landing is unclear. He was questioned by the authorities, and released. The authorities say there's no reason to believe Detroit is a target for a terrorist attack – that it's just a coincidence that both cases involved young men who went to the bathroom aboard Detroit-bound flights from Amsterdam on Northwest Airlines, which was recently acquired by Delta.

The scene inside Detroit's international airport on Sunday, Dec. 27, about 11:30a.m., shortly before the arrival of Northwest Flight 253. Photo by Steven Gray/TIME

Meanwhile, details about Abdulmutallab's background are emerging, like this piece in the Nigerian newspaper, This Day. The cases have frazzled nerves, and prompted officials, at least in the U.S., to toughen security measures. But is racial or ethnic profiling ever justified - and, if so, when, and why?

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