Details Continue to Emerge on Terror Suspect, Botched Airline Plot

BY jbreslow  December 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM EST

New details continue to emerge over the botched Christmas Day plot to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight bound for Detroit.

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The dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by 23-year-old Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could have blown a hole in the side of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, according to two federal sources who spoke to the Washington Post. Early conclusions, sources told the Post, suggest Abdulmutallab tried to ignite 80 grams of PETN — nearly twice as much of the explosive material as used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Abdulmutallab is reported to have hid a packet of the explosive powder by sewing it into his underwear, according to photos obtained by ABC News.

As information about the plot trickles out, a more complete profile of the alleged bomber is developing as well. In [300 online postings](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/28/AR2009122802492.html?sid=ST2009122802585) reviewed by the Post, a portrait of as a troubled young student emerges. “I have no one to speak too [sic],” reads one post from 2005. “No one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely … And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” Abdulmutallab’s role came as a shock to Mike Rimmer, his history teacher for three years at the exclusive British School of Lome in the African nation of Togo. Rimmer [told NPR's](http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121981170) Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, “I was expecting great things from Umar. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. He was a great lad. He was a model student — very keen, very enthusiastic.” Yet Rimmer also [recalled to the BBC](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8431530.stm) that Abdulmutallab “was always very religious and some of the things he said were over the top.” Meanwhile, the plot continues to raise questions about the safety of U.S. air travel more than eight years after the attacks of Sept. 11. While the Department of Homeland Security has spent $40 billion to strengthen aviation security, “the system has been slow to make even bigger changes because of a balky bureaucracy, fickle politics and, at times, airline industry opposition,” writes Eric Lipton of [the New York Times](http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/us/29screening.html?_r=1&hp). In addition to squandering millions of dollars on faulty technology that fails to detect certain explosives, Lipton says the government has also yet to fully deploy a method of matching passenger names with terror watch lists. As Juan Carlos Zarate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Gwen Ifill on [Monday's Newshour](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/terrorism/july-dec09/airport2_12-28.html), the attempted bombing once again “underscores the importance of intelligence.” Yes, Abdulmutallab “was part of a broader database, but there wasn’t enough information as of the point of his embarkation to allow authorities to not let him on the flight,” Zarate said. We’ll have more on the attempted bombing throughout the day, and on tonight’s Newshour. Stay tuned.