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Dutch: Reports Appear to Confirm al-Qaida Role in Bomb Plot

December 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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The Dutch interior ministry said Wednesday that initial findings appear to confirm al-Qaida's claim of responsibility in the Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt. Ray Suarez reports on the day's updates.
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RAY SUAREZ: There was new information from the Dutch concerning Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his alleged bombing attempt. Flight 253 originated in Amsterdam, and the Dutch interior minister said initial findings appear to confirm al-Qaida’s claim of responsibility.

GUUSJE TER HORST, interior minister, Netherlands: The first conclusions of the investigation are that preparations for the failed attack were fairly professional, but that the execution was amateurish.

Secondly, the explosives used were neither easy to handle nor risk-free to prepare. The way it was used and the explosives compare to those used in previous attacks.

RAY SUAREZ: The bomb, made of the chemical PETN, was hidden in Abdulmutallab’s clothing, and failed to go off. That left the airliner intact on the tarmac, but it also left continuing questions about what U.S. intelligence knew ahead of time.

It was widely reported today there had been al-Qaida chatter about a Nigerian being prepared for an unspecified attack. That information has surfaced in a review President Obama ordered.

And he made clear yesterday, he’s not happy with what he’s been hearing.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could have cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable.

RAY SUAREZ: As a result, various U.S. intelligence agencies are trying to figure out what went wrong. And they’re piecing together a timetable of Abdulmutallab’s activities going back more than a year.

In June of last year, he is granted a tourist visa to the U.S., good for multiple entries until June 12 of 2010. It’s issued by the American Embassy in London, where Abdulmutallab attended college. In May of this year, he is refused another British visa because the school listed on his application is not government-approved, and he is barred from reentering Britain.

Three months later, he begins taking Arabic classes at this school in Sanaa, Yemen, his second visit there in recent years. On November 19, Abdulmutallab’s father tells the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria he’s concerned about his son’s increasingly radical talk. The embassy relays the information to all U.S. diplomatic missions and the State Department in Washington.

Abdulmutallab’s name is now entered into a terror watch list of 550,000 names. The name is not added to the much smaller no-fly list. And the visa granted in June 2008 is not revoked.

Then, on December 16, a round-trip ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit is purchased in Ghana for $2,800 in cash. Nigerian officials say Abdulmutallab returns to Lagos for one day, on Christmas Eve, to board the flight. He checks no bags and passes through security. He arrives in Amsterdam on Christmas Day.

The Dutch interior minister says nothing seems amiss before he boards Northwest Flight 253 for Detroit.

GUUSJE TER HORST: The suspect did not leave the customs area at Schiphol during his transfer. He spent the usual transfer time, a couple of hours, as per the norm, in the airport’s international lounge. As per protocol, he had to pass a security gate within the customs area at Schiphol, a metal detector. And this presented no irregularities.

RAY SUAREZ: Hours later, Abdulmutallab’s flight was on final approach to Detroit, when he allegedly tried to set off the bomb and was overpowered.

Now, as he sits in a federal prison in Michigan, his ties to Yemen and its growing al-Qaida presence have come under intense new scrutiny. Today, security forces stormed an al-Qaida hideout along Yemen’s western coast, and arrested at least one suspect.

And the deputy interior minister declared, his government “will continue its strikes against the group until it is totally eliminated.” And officials in Somalia reported a Somali national tried to board a commercial airliner there last month with a bomb that closely resembled the one on the Northwest flight.

That’s added to the urgency in the U.S. and other countries to improve screening. Today, the Dutch announced they will begin using full-body scanners on all flights to the U.S.

GUUSJE TER HORST: However, security gates currently used only detect metal, which is why body searches are carried out sporadically. This combination is, of course, not watertight, which is why the decision has been made to introduce full body scanners at Schiphol for flights to the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: And Nigeria said it will purchase the 3-D scanners as well.

Back in the U.S., the preliminary findings from the investigation ordered by the president are due tomorrow.