Friday, December 25, 2009

Danger: Nigerian On Board

MSNBC - A Nigerian man claiming ties to al-Qaida tried to light a powder aboard a commercial jetliner before it landed Friday in Detroit in what senior U.S. officials called an attempted act of terrorism.

“He appears to have had some kind of incendiary device he tried to ignite,” a senior U.S. official told NBC News. Other officials said the explosive device was a mixture of powder and liquid, which failed when the passenger tried to detonate it during the plane’s descent into Detroit International Airport.

Two people noticed the attempted attack, and a third person jumped on the man and subdued him, an airline official told NBC News. The man was being treated at the burn unit of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, officials said.

Federal officials identified the man as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, of Nigeria, who was traveling one way, without a return ticket.

Rep. Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who was briefed on the incident, said Abdulmutallab was known in federal counterterrorism files and may have been on the government’s list of suspicious passengers banned from flying in the United States.

King said the incident raised troubling questions about airline security. “It must be looked into” how Mudallad was able to sneak a “somewhat sophisticated device” on board, he said.

Abdulmutallab told investigators that he wanted to set off a bomb over the United States and claimed to be connected to al-Qaida, the terrorism network responsible for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, counterterrorism officials said.

A counterterrorism official said Abdulmutallab, who was subdued by the crew of Northwest Air Lines Flight 253 from Amsterdam, left Lagos, Nigeria, on Thursday and boarded the flight in Amsterdam on Friday.

The timing of the attempted attack could be significant. It was eight years ago this week that a similar attempted attack was launched by a British member of al-Qaida who tried to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami by igniting explosives in his shoes. And the attempted attack comes on the same day that the Taliban released a video of a U.S. soldier it is holding captive in Afghanistan.

News organizations, including, initially reported that the government had raised the terrorism alert for flights after the incident. Those reports were inaccurate; the flight alert had been at orange before the incident.