Sunday, December 27, 2009

Security increased after failed plane attack

It was intended to be al-Qaeda's Christmas Day spectacular. But luck and the ineptness of the terrorist resulted in the attack failing. Events unfolded on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in the US which was carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew. According to eyewitnesses the suspect attempted to detonated a device attached to his leg. Several spoke of hearing a loud pop and of seeing smoke and flames. Some intervened to restrain the man and douse the flames.

The man has been identified as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23 year old, and is said to be the son of a top Nigerian banker. In fact his father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab has said he had become gravely concerned about their son, a former engineering student at University College London. His political views had alarmed his family and his father especially the BBC reported. Mutallab had approached the US embassy in Abuja, reportedly in November, as well as Nigerian security officials, to voice concerns about his son. But questions are now being raised as to how the accused, who had a valid US travel visa, boarded a flight in Lagos to Amsterdam, despite being on a database listing individuals of concern to the authorities.

Anti-terrorist measures in Nigeria's airports are described as haphazard and there is corruption among police, customs and security officials. An unnamed Obama official quoted by the New York Times said, "The information was passed into the system but the expression of radical extremist views were very non-specific."

A US official told Reuters news agency the suspect's name was in a US database of suspected terrorists, but there had not been sufficient information to warrant putting him on the "no-fly" list. It is understood that members of Abdulmutallab's family are travelling to the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday to meet police and government officials.

The device carried on board the plane was said to have been a high explosive device sewn into the suspects underwear. In an attempt to detonate the explosives he suffered severe burns and is now under guard in a hospital. Preliminary FBI analysis has found that the device allegedly found attached to Abdulmutallab contained the high explosive PETN, also known as pentaerythritol. PETN was also used in the device worn by British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who is serving a prison sentence for attempting to blow up a Paris-Miami airliner in Christmas week of 2001.

Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate the device using a syringe, but it failed to explode. He reportedly told investigators he had links to al-Qaeda and had received the explosives in Yemen for a suicide attack, after a month of training. The man went to the bathroom for about 20 minutes before the incident, court documents say. On returning to his seat he said he had an upset stomach and pulled a blanket over himself, the affidavit continues. "Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odour, and some observed Abdulmutallab's pants, leg and the wall of the airplane on fire," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Dutch tourist Jasper Schuringa, credited with tackling the suspect first and helping crew members restrain him, is being hailed as a hero by fans on the internet. 

The 32 year old Dutch filmmaker has said in media interviews that when he heard a bang and smelled smoke he felt immediately it was a terrorist attack and did not hesitate to intervene. The incident occurred minutes before Northwest Airlines Flight 253, an Airbus 330, was due to land in Detroit.

US airline security has increased following the failed attack thriggering delays on transatlantic flights. Measures include cutting down on hand baggage, extra frisking of passengers at passport control and allowing more time to board. According to CNN, international flight passengers report being confined to seats with restrictions on lap coverings. Security has also been increased at UK airports and at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, where the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, went through "normal security procedures" before boarding the flight, according to security officials.

Terrorism task forces in New York, Washington, Texas and Washington state are investigating contacts Abdulmutallab may have had there. Meanwhile, police in the UK are also carrying out investigations ad searching properties University College London where the suspect once studied [BBC / CNN] .

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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