SECURITY -- December 26, 2009 at 10:39 AM ET
Security Tightened at Airports Worldwide After Apparent Terror Attempt
Update: Dec. 27, 2009, 9:30am ET
Federal officials charged Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Saturday with trying to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The Washington Post reports more on Abdulmutallab's background, including that the incident comes just a month after his father says he warned U.S. officials in Nigeria of concerns about his son's extremist beliefs. The New York Times also reports that officials are also investigating whether Abdulmutallab may have had ties to a bomb-making expert in Yemen associated with al-Qaida.
Security is being tightened Saturday at airports in the U.S. and around the world after a man tried to ignite a device on a trans-Atlantic Christmas Day flight to Detroit in what is being deemed an attempted terrorist attack.
The attack was unsuccessful and it appears that only one of the 278 passengers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam sustained a serious injury. Passengers in fact, helped subdue the man, who is described in media reports as a Nigerian national. He apparently tried to detonate a mix of powder and liquid chemicals contained in a syringe that was taped to his leg, according to federal officials.
White House officials told news organizations the incident was an "attempted act of terrorism."
Travelers aboard the flight said they smelled smoke, heard a series of pops, saw a glow and said it sounded like firecrackers had gone off.
Passengers aboard the plane told the AP that another passenger sitting opposite the man climbed over other passengers to help control the suspect. That passenger may have been burned along with the suspect. Other passengers helped restrain the man, who was brought to the front of the plane with the help of the crew.
Federal officials said the suspect claimed to be acting on orders from al-Qaida but were still seeking confirmation as to whether that was true or whether he was inspired by al-Qaida. They also are investigating just how the suspect was able to bring the substances aboard and whether the combination could have brought the plane down. According to some news reports, the combination of substances was more incendiary than explosive.
"We're trying to ascertain exactly what he had and what he thought he was doing, but our sense is he wanted to wreak some havoc here and was attempting to do just that," a law enforcement official told the New York Times. "Whether at the end of the day he had the ability to do that is what I think we'll be able to pull together over the next several days as we investigate this."
Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the incident and told CNN that the suspect's device was sophisticated and dangerous.
"This was the real deal," King said. "This could have been devastating."
King also called on Congress to investigate the incident.
Saturday morning, airport security was tightened around the U.S. as travelers prepared to fly back from Christmas destinations. Meanwhile, airport officials in Britain, France, German, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands stepped up passenger checks and other security measures following a formal request by the U.S. Department of Transportation to do so internationally.
The Washington Post reported that the suspect was not on the "no-fly" list maintained by the Transportation Security Administration. But the paper reported that his name "appears to be included in the government's records of terrorism suspects, according to a preliminary review."
British authorities are investigating reports that the man was a student in Britain, the BBC and others reported.
The Post also reported that the suspect told federal investigators "he had ties to al-Qaida and traveled to Yemen to collect the incendiary device and instructions on how to use it, according to a federal counterterrorism official briefed on the case."
The suspect was taken to a hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday.
President Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, was briefed throughout the day about the incident.