Updated: Police raid premises connected to alleged bomber
The FBI probed Saturday an attempt to blow up a US airliner landing in Detroit as British police raided premises linked to the Nigerian suspect and airport security was stepped up worldwide.
Questions mounted over how the suspect, identified in the US as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, managed to sneak an incendiary device past airport security in Lagos and Amsterdam. Dutch authorities said he was carrying a valid US visa.
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 Airbus A330 from Amsterdam, according to senior officials quoted by US media.
The Christmas Day attack, which sparked alarm and fear among the 278 passengers aboard the Northwest Airlines flight, had echoes of British-born Richard Reid’s botched “shoe-bomb” attempt almost eight years ago to the day.
Police in London investigated reports the latest would-be bomber was the same man University College London (UCL) had listed as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a student there between 2005 and 2008.
They searched a number of addresses in the capital, including an upscale mansion flat near Oxford Circus where the suspect is believed to have lived while studying mechanical engineering.
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Meanwhile, Nigerian newspaper This Day reported that Abdulmutallab’s wealthy businessman father, Umaru Mutallab, had grown so distraught over his son’s religious extremism that he contacted US authorities about it in mid-2009.
Back in the United States, the FBI refused to give out hard information about its investigation, but reports said the remains of the device used in the attack had been sent to a lab in Quantico, Virginia for analysis.
US media reported that Abdulmutallab was being treated at the University of Michigan Medical Center for third-degree burns to his legs. A spokeswoman for the center in Ann Arbor, a city near Detroit, told AFP a man had been admitted.
Witnesses described Friday’s dramatic events when a passenger tackled the suspect, who was then dragged to the front of the plane by the cabin crew and isolated as the aircraft prepared to land in Detroit.
The hero appeared to be Japser Schuringa who told CNN how 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 Abdulmutallab’s clothes to check for explosives before a crew member helped handcuff him.
“My hands are pretty burned. I am fine,” said Schuringa, a Dutch video producer and director from Amsterdam, according to the New York Daily News. “I am shaken up. I am happy to be here.”
Once in custody, the suspect claimed he was following orders from Al-Qaeda and had acquired his incendiary device in Yemen, reports said, but experts urged caution and suggested he could still have been acting alone.
White House officials and US lawmakers called the incident a terror attack and President Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii with his family, ordered security measures to be stepped up at airports.
Observers were baffled that a man reportedly listed for some time in a US intelligence database had managed to board a plane with an incendiary device.
Dutch anti-terrorism officials stressed that proper procedures had been followed on their end before US authorities cleared the flight for departure.
“The man arrived from Lagos at Amsterdam-Schiphol and took a connecting flight to Detroit,” a statement from the office of the Netherlands anti-terrorism coordinator (NCTB) said.
“Initial inquiries indicate that before the departure of the flight for the United States, Northwest Airlines communicated the list of passengers in line with standard procedures to the American authorities with their personal data, including those of the suspect.”
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.
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It was also Christmas week in 2001, when the country was still reeling from the September 11 attacks, that 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.
As checks were tightened at major airports, including in Paris, Rome and London, US officials said there were no immediate plans to elevate the nation’s aviation threat level from orange to red, its most severe status.
This video was snipped by Crooks and Liars on Dec. 26, 2009.