Nigerian Man Attempted to Blow Up US Airliner
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A young Nigerian man with reported links to Al-Qaeda was under arrest Saturday after trying to blow up a US airliner, as authorities worldwide tightened airport security.
Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was badly burned when he ignited a sophisticated explosive device Friday on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, witnesses said.
The attack, eight years after "shoe bomber" Richard Reid tried something similar on a flight from Paris to Miami, sparked alarm and fear among the 278 passengers aboard the Northwest Airlines Airbus A330.
Several passengers said a man tackled Abdulmutallab, who was then dragged to the front of the plane by the cabin crew and isolated as the aircraft landed in Detroit.
"There was a pop," passenger Syed Jafry, sitting three rows behind the Nigerian, told CNN.
"After a few seconds or so, then there was a little bit of light, a little bit of -- kind of flameish light and there was fire. And people began to panic almost."
"Everybody was rushing towards that area and tried to get water, a blanket and fire extinguisher."
"The man was on fire and the flames were so high, they almost hit the roof of the plane," Canadian Shama Chopra told The Montreal Gazette. "I thought we were all gone. Thank God, somehow the plane landed."
After his arrest, Abdulmutallab told the authorities that he had used a syringe filled with chemicals to mix with powder taped to his leg, according to senior officials quoted anonymously by US media.
White House officials and US lawmakers called the incident a terror attack and President Barack Obama ordered security measures to be stepped up at airports.
"We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism," a senior White House official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
After a conference call with top security advisors, Obama "instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," the White House said.
Dutch anti-terrorism officials said Abdulmutallab had arrived at Schiphol airport on a connecting flight and was not a Netherlands resident. Reports said he had boarded the plane on a one-way ticket after flying in from Lagos. Related article: Nigeria orders probe
Netherlands officials also said Washington had asked airlines worldwide to tighten security.
British police said they were conducting searches in London, where some unconfirmed reports said Abdulmutallab had been a student at University College.
A Nigerian government statement also said Vice President Goodluck Jonathan had ordered the government's security agencies to begin a full investigation of the incident."
The latest botched attack served as a grim reminder to Americans of the specter of airborne terror.
It was also Christmas week in 2001, when the country was still reeling from the September 11 attacks, that British-born 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.
Friday's attack renewed concerns about airport security, especially as Abdulmutallab used what is thought to be a new kind of explosive device that obviously made it through checks at Schiphol.
"I know it was fairly sophisticated, and from what I've heard about the way it was going to be detonated, it seems to be different from what we've seen before," Peter King, senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, told US media.
"My understanding also is that while he is not on a watch list, he definitely has terror connections," King told Fox News. "There is a terrorist nexus leading towards Al-Qaeda involving this assailant."
Abdulmutallab was reportedly receiving treatment for third-degree burns to his legs at the University of Michigan Medical Center in the nearby city of Ann Arbor.
He told the authorities he was following orders from Al-Qaeda, according to US media reports, but counter-terrorism officials said he could have been acting alone.
US media, citing a federal security bulletin, said the man told investigators he had acquired the explosive device in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used.
There was a suggestion of links between Abdulmutallab and radical US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had contacts with the US army psychiatrist accused of gunning down 13 people at a Texas military base last month.
"He may have been in contact with the American imam al-Aulaqi," Peter Hoekstra, the most senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Congress for Michigan, told AFP.
"There are reports that he had contact and that he was recently in Yemen. The question we'll have to raise is was this imam in Yemen influential enough to get some people to attack the US again."
Meanwhile, the European Commission said Saturday it was investigating if proper security measures had been followed in Amsterdam, as checks were tightened in other major airports, including Paris, Rome and London.
"I am horrified by the attempted terrorist attack on a flight between Amsterdam and Detroit on Christmas Day," said a statement by Jacques Barrot, a vice-president of the European Commission.
This video was snipped by Crooks and Liars on Dec. 26, 2009.