Passengers take down would-be bomber
Nigerian man claiming link to Al Qaeda tries to detonate explosives on jet with 289 aboard
WASHINGTON–A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on Al Qaeda's instructions, tried to blow up the plane Friday as it was landing in Detroit, law enforcement and national security officials said.
Passengers subdued the man and may have prevented him from detonating the explosives, officials said.
"We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism," a White House official said.
Federal officials have imposed stricter airline screening measures.
Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, a Nigerian. Others had different spellings.
Northwest Airlines Flight 253 began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit. There were 289 people aboard the Delta Airbus 330. (The two airlines merged last year.)
It was unclear how Mutallab managed to get the explosive on the plane. A senior administration official said the government did not yet know whether the man had the capacity to take down the plane.
Mutallab told law enforcement authorities, the official said, that he had taped explosive powder to his leg and had tried to add chemicals from a syringe to the powder to cause an explosion.
A federal counterterrorism official, who asked not to be identified, said Mutallab was apparently in a government law enforcement intelligence database, but it is not clear what extremist group or individuals he might be linked to.
Although Mutallab is said to have told officials he was directed by Al Qaeda, the counterterrorism official expressed caution about that claim, saying "it may have been aspirational.''
There was nothing out of the ordinary until the flight was on final approach to Detroit, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory. That is when the pilot declared an emergency and landed without incident shortly thereafter, at 11:51 a.m.
Passenger Syed Jafri, a U.S. citizen who had flown from the United Arab Emirates, said the incident occurred during the plane's descent. Jafri said he was seated three rows behind the passenger and said he saw a glow, and noticed a smell of smoke. Then, he said, "a young man behind me jumped on him.
"Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic," he said.
Mutallab was being questioned Friday evening. An intelligence source said the Nigerian passenger was being held and treated in a Michigan hospital.
The Los Angeles Times reported the passenger suffered burns as the result of his attempt to detonate the bomb.
"He was trying to ignite some kind of incendiary device," the Times quoted an unnamed anti-terror official as saying.
"He lit himself on fire and he's suffered some burns."
The official did not reveal the nature of the explosive device and said it was too early to say how potent or sophisticated it was.
One federal official who requested anonymity said the man suffered severe second-degree burns but was expected to survive.
A law enforcement source said the man claimed to have been instructed by Al Qaeda to detonate the plane over U.S. soil.
The official said an official determination of a terrorist act would have to come from the attorney general.
The official added that additional security measures are being taken without raising the airline threat level, but declined to describe what those measures are.
A law enforcement source said the explosives may have been strapped to the man's body but investigators weren't immediately certain, partly because of the struggle with other passengers.
One passenger from the flight was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said. She didn't know the person's condition.
The White House was coordinating briefings for President Barack Obama through the Homeland Security Department, the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI.
Obama was notified of the incident and discussed it with security officials, the White House said. It said he is monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from his vacation spot in Hawaii.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been briefed on the incident and is closely monitoring the situation.
The department encouraged travellers to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behaviour to law enforcement officials.
The timing and description of the incident so far recall the attempted attack on a Paris-Miami flight eight years ago by "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, a British Al Qaeda operative who was convicted in U.S. federal court of trying to blow up the American Airlines flight.
Soon after takeoff from Paris on Dec. 22, 2001, Reid tried to ignite explosives that had been packed into his high-top gym shoes in an attempt to blow a hole in the plane and bring it down.
An alert flight attendant and passenger subdued Reid and foiled the attack, which spread fear across the world during the Christmas holidays just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Reid was one of several bombers whom Al Qaeda trained in its Afghan camps to commit attacks aboard planes carrying concealed explosives.
In August 2006, British police working with U.S. and Pakistani intelligence broke up a plot in which Al Qaeda trained Britons in Pakistan to assemble sophisticated, liquid-based bombs that would have been smuggled aboard planes in energy drinks and other containers.
If the Nigerian arrested Friday attempted a terrorist bombing, the FBI would be focused on trying to determine if he acted alone or had training from Al Qaeda or another network. There will be great interest also in the nature and destructive capacity of the explosive device involved and how it got past airport security screeners.
Nigerians have not figured in many cases involving Al Qaeda, but the rise of violent Islamic extremism in that country, and in sub-Saharan Africa overall, concerns Western antiterror officials.
With files from Star news services
Apparently, the suspect's own father had reported him to authorities:
Kudos and awards go out to JASPER SCHURINGA who jumped the suspect: