Qaeda-linked man in bid to blow up US plane
Detroit, December 26, 2009
A Nigerian man linked to al Qaeda tried to set off an explosive device aboard a US passenger plane as it approached Detroit, but was overpowered by passengers and crew and the aircraft landed safely, officials said.
The suspect suffered extensive third-degree burns and was taken into custody. The passengers, two of whom suffered minor injuries, disembarked safely from the Delta Air Lines plane, which had departed from Amsterdam.
'We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism,' a White House official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
President Barack Obama is on vacation in Hawaii and was monitoring the situation after conferring with Homeland Security and National Security Council officials.
Representative Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the explosive device was 'fairly sophisticated,' and identified the suspect as Abdul Mudallad, a 23-year-old Nigerian.
'When it did go off, he himself was seriously injured. He has third-degree burns,' King told Fox News. ... (The device) 'appears to be different from what we've encountered before.' Mudallad tried to ignite the device or mixture as the aircraft was approaching Detroit.
King told CNN that Mudallad 'did appear in a database as far as having a terrorist connection. ... My understanding is ... that he does have al Qaeda connections, certainly extremist terrorist connections, and his name popped up pretty quickly' in a search of intelligence data bases.
Suspect badly burned
Mudallad was not on a 'no-fly' list, which might have kept him off the plane, but his name was in a database indicating 'a significant terrorist connection,' King said.
'He was severely burned. His entire leg was burned. They required a fire extinguisher as well as water to put it out,' passenger Melinda Dennis told NBC News.
'You could smell the smoke when we landed. You could smell the scent of something being burned when we landed.'
Another passenger, Richelle Keepman, said the incident was 'terrifying.'
'I thought -- I think we all thought we weren't going to land, we weren't going to make it,' Keepman told NBC.
Once on the ground, the aircraft was moved to a remote area at Detroit's airport where all baggage was being rescreened, said the Transportation Security Administration.
Citing unnamed US officials, the Wall Street Journal said Mudallad had told investigators al Qaeda operatives in Yemen had given him the device and instructions how to detonate it.
But NBC, citing anti-terrorism officials, said Mudallad 'claims to have been acting on his own.'
The aircraft, Northwest Airlines flight 253, was an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers. Delta Air Lines has taken over Northwest.
King said the suspect started his journey in Nigeria.
'How sophisticated he was, I don't know,' he said. 'But again, it was a fairly sophisticated device. I would say we dropped the ball on this one.'
Homeland Security said in a statement that enhanced security measures had been put into effect. 'Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights,' the statement said.
Part of a larger plot?
King said there was an investigation into whether the incident may have been part of a larger plot. There is a 'world-wide alert to make sure this is not part of a larger overall scheme,' he said.
The New York Times, citing a senior Department of Homeland Security official, said the device 'was made from a mixture of powder and liquid' and was 'more incendiary than explosive.'
The official said Mudallad told law enforcement authorities he had explosive powder taped to his leg and that he used a syringe filled with chemicals to mix with the powder in an attempt to cause an explosion.'
The attempt appeared similar to one eight years ago when a British-born man, Richard Reid, tried but failed to blow up a trans-Atlantic jumbo jet by lighting explosives stuffed into his shoes. Reid, a follower of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is serving a life sentence in a US prison.
It also is the latest in a string of terrorism-related plots in the United States over the past few months, including one in which an Afghan-born man was arrested in September on charges he planned to set off bombs in the US. – Reuters