A Nigerian man was charged Saturday with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, while security officials told US media that the suspect had confessed to being trained for the mission by al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
AFP - A Nigerian man was charged Saturday with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, while unnamed security officials told US media the suspect had confessed that Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen trained him for the mission.
Airport security was stepped up worldwide after the botched terror attack as British police raided premises where the suspect, the son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman, was thought to have lived while studying at a London university.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was arraigned at the US hospital where he was being treated for burns he sustained while trying to bring down a Northwest Airlines plane with 290 people on board.
Judge Paul Borman read the charges against him during a 20-minute hearing. Reporters allowed to witness the event said Abdulmutallab was handcuffed to a wheelchair and sported bandages on both wrists and parts of his hands.
He spoke in English and said he was "doing better" when asked how he was feeling. He told the judge he could not afford an attorney, and was assigned a US public defender.
A preliminary FBI analysis found that the device Abdulmutallab used "contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive," the charge sheet said.
Abdulmutallab confessed once in custody that he had mixed a syringe full of chemicals with powder taped to his leg to try and blow up the Northwest Airlines flight, according to senior officials quoted by US media.
Other law enforcement officials quoted by ABC News and NBC said the suspect also said that Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen trained him, and told him on how to carry out the attack.
The failed attack "shows that we must remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism at all times," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
"Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured."
Questions mounted over how Abdulmutallab managed to sneak the device past airport security in Amsterdam and Lagos, where he started his journey. Dutch authorities said he was carrying a valid US visa.
The attack, which sparked alarm and fear among the 279 passengers and 11 crew aboard the Airbus A330, had echoes of British-born Richard Reid's botched "shoe-bomb" attempt almost eight years ago to the day.
British police searched addresses in London, including an upscale mansion flat where the suspect is believed to have lived while studying mechanical engineering at University College London (UCL) between 2005 and 2008.
The Nigerian newspaper This Day reported that Abdulmutallab's father, Umaru Mutallab, was so worried about his son's religious extremism that he contacted US authorities to express his concern in mid-2009.
US Senator Joseph Lieberman questioned how Abdulmutallab could have still avoided US attention.
"I am troubled by several aspects of this case, including how the suspect escaped the attention of the State Department and law enforcers when his father apparently reported concerns about his son's extremist behavior" he said.
Meanwhile the hero of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Dutch video producer and director Jasper Schuringa, was achieving cult status on the Internet for tackling the would-be bomber and helping the crew to restrain him.
Schuringa told CNN he had jumped over the passenger next to him and lunged onto Abdulmutallab's seat as the suspect held a burning object between his legs.
"I pulled the object from him and tried to extinguish the fire with my hands and threw it away," said Schuringa, adding that he stripped off the suspect's clothes to check for explosives before a crew member helped handcuff him.
"My hands are pretty burned. I am fine," said Schuringa, who within a day of the attack already had four Facebook sites dedicated in his honor with new members signing up in droves.
The White House and US lawmakers called the incident a terror attack. President Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii with his family, ordered security measures to be increased at airports and held a secure conference call with his security team.
The Department of Homeland Security said it implemented additional flight screening measures, and urged holiday travelers to remain vigilant.
Dutch anti-terrorism officials stressed that proper procedures had been followed on their end of the Northwest Airlines flight, and that US authorities had cleared the flight for departure.
The attack, eight years after "shoe-bomber" Reid tried something similar on a flight from Paris to Miami, served as a grim reminder to Americans of the specter of airborne terror.
It was Christmas week in 2001, with the country still reeling from the September 11 attacks, when Reid tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet by lighting explosives in his shoes. He is serving a life sentence in a US prison.
Checks were tightened Saturday at major world airports, including in Paris, Rome and London, but US officials said there were no immediate plans to elevate the nation's aviation threat level from orange to red, its most severe status.
Date created : 2009-12-27