UPDATE: Search For Answers & Tighter Security After Foiled Attack

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Britain Airliner Attack

DETROIT – The U.S. government tightened airline security as it searches for answers to how a 23-year-old Nigerian man eluded extensive systems intended to prevent attacks like his botched Christmas Day effort to blow up a Northwest flight from overseas.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claimed ties to al-Qaida, was charged Saturday with trying to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner, just a month after his father warned U.S. officials of concerns about his son’s religious beliefs.

Airports worldwide tightened security a day after the passenger tried to detonate a device that contained a high explosive on a flight intoDetroit. After that attack, passengers have had to contend with extra pat-downs before boarding, staying in their seats without blankets or pillows for the last hour of the flight and more bomb-sniffing dogs.

Aides to President Barack Obama are pondering how terror watch-lists are used after the botched attack, according to officials who described the discussions Saturday on the condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt possible official announcements.

These adjustments came after the Justice Department charged that Abdulmutallab willfully attempted to destroy or wreck an aircraft; and that he placed a destructive device in the plane.

An affidavit said he had a device containing a high explosive attached to his body. The affidavit said that as Northwest Flight 253 descended toward Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Abdulmutallab set off the device — sparking a fire instead of an explosion.

According to the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, a preliminary analysis of the device showed it contained PETN, a high explosive also known as pentaerythritol. This was the same material convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid used when he tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes.

The investigation stretched to London, where a government official said border agents blocked an attempt by Abdulmutallab to return to Britain earlier this year. The suspected bomber was refused a student visa in May because authorities suspected that the school he said he was studying with wasn’t genuine, the official said. He spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to release the information on an official basis.

The use of bogus schools to secure student visas has been identified as a weakness in Britain’s immigration system. In April, one of several suspected terrorists arrested in raids in northern England was found to have a visa issued with the help of a fake college, prompting opposition lawmakers to call for a crackdown. Some 2,000 such schools have been closed.

A white stone apartment block in an exclusive area of central London identified as Abdulmutallab’s family home remained cordoned off Sunday. A police spokeswoman said the force was carrying out searches in connection with the incident in Detroit.

University College London said Abdulmutallab was enrolled at the school from September 2005 to June 2008. In Nigeria, the father of Abdulmutallab said his son had been a student in London, but had left the city to travel.

U.S. authorities told The Associated Press that in November, his father, a prominent banking official in Nigeria, went to the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss his concerns about his son’s religious beliefs.

One U.S. government official said the father did not have any specific information that would put his son on the “no-fly list” or on the list for additional security checks at the airport.

A Nigerian newspaper, ThisDay, said Abdulmutallab began to show his increasingly radical views on Islam during his high school days at the British International School in Lome, Togo. His attendance at the elite college preparatory school, attended by children of diplomats and wealthy Africans, could not be confirmed by school officials on Sunday.

But Efemena Mokedi, remembered Abdulmutallab from their days on the basketball team at the exclusive school as “a smart kid” and “a friendly person.”

“He was a very religious person, a very honest person. He was friends with all the teachers,” said Mokedi, who now lives in the United States, in an interview broadcast on the BBC. “Yes, I’m very surprised. … This is really out of how he is as a person. This is unexpected … He’s a very good guy, a very good chap.”

ThisDay, the newspaper, said Abdulmutallab left London at some point to move to Egypt, then Dubai. The government in Dubai could not immediately confirm he visited that country. A security official in Egypt said there were no records to indicate Abdulmutallab entered Egypt or had any connection to Egypt.

The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.

The Nigerian newspaper says that is was during his time in Dubai that Abdulmutallab began to distance himself from his family, telling them he did not want anything to do with them. The newspaper said Abdulmutallab’s father lost contact with him last November, when he may have left London, according to the newspaper.

The newspaper also reported that Abdulmutallab’s father is married to a woman of Yemeni descent. Yemeni officials could not immediately verify this.

Abdulmutallab appeared on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, said a U.S. official who received a briefing and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Containing some 550,000 names, the database includes people with known or suspected ties to a terrorist organization. However, it is not a list that would prohibit a person from boarding a U.S.-bound airplane.

The effects of the botched attack could be felt by passengers on many international flights departing from airports around the world.

Passengers getting off flights from overseas reported being told that they couldn’t get out of their seat for the last hour of their flight. Air Canada also said that during the last hour passengers won’t be allowed access to carryon baggage or to have any items on their laps.

The extra vigilance compounded delays in a busy holiday travel period marked by snowstorms in the Midwestand heavy rain in the East.

The TSA security directive applied to U.S.-bound flights from overseas, according to a transportation security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

The official said passengers traveling internationally could see increased screening at gates and when they check bags, as well as other measures on flights such as stowing carryons and personal items before the plane lands.

While air travelers contended with the new rules, investigators tried to determine facts about the suspect’s background.

He claimed to have received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen, a law enforcement official said on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, said there were “strong suggestions of a Yemen-al Qaida connection and an intent to blow up the plane over U.S. airspace.” Several officials said they have yet to see independent confirmation.

A Virginia-based group that monitors militant messages called attention Saturday to a Dec. 21 video recording from an al-Qaida operative in Yemen who warned of a looming bombing in the U.S.

IntelCenter said the al-Qaida member levied that threat last week during a funeral for militants killed during an airstrike in Yemen two days earlier.

[Updated 12.16.09, 8:35 a.m.]

Passengers Helped Foil Attack On Detroit-Bound Plane

ROMULUS, Mich. – An attempted terrorist attack on a Christmas Day flight began with a pop and a puff of smoke — sending passengers scrambling to subdue a Nigerian man who claimed to be acting on orders from al-Qaida to blow up the airliner, officials and travelers said.

The commotion began as Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew members from Amsterdam, prepared to land in Detroit just before noon Friday. Travelers said they smelled smoke, saw a glow, and heard what sounded like firecrackers. At least one person climbed over others and jumped on the man, who officials say was trying to ignite an explosive device.

RELATED: Condi Rice Says Leaving Afghanistan Will Lead To More Terrorism

“It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase,” said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands. “First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke.”

Smith said one passenger, sitting opposite the man, climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

Afterward, the suspect was taken to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Multiple law enforcement officials also said the man appeared badly burned on his legs, indicating the explosive was strapped there. The components were apparently mixed in-flight and included a powdery substance, multiple law enforcement and counterterrorism officials said.

The White House said it believed it was an attempted act of terrorism and stricter security measures were quickly imposed on airline travel. Dutch anti-terrorism authorities said the U.S. has asked all airlines to take extra precautions on flights worldwide that are bound for the United States.

The incident was reminiscent of Richard Reid, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, but was subdued by other passengers.

Multiple law enforcement officials identified the suspect in Friday’s attempted attack as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. He was described as Nigerian.

One law enforcement official said the man claimed to have been instructed by al-Qaida to detonate the plane over U.S. soil, but other law enforcement officials cautioned that such claims could not be verified immediately, and said the man may have been acting independently — inspired but not specifically trained or ordered by terror groups.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

Intelligence and anti-terrorism officials in Yemen said they were investigating claims by the suspect that he picked up the explosive device and instructions on how to use it in that country. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The man was being questioned Friday evening. An intelligence official said he was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Mich., hospital. The hospital said one passenger from the flight was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, but referred all inquiries to the FBI.

Melinda Dennis, who was seated in the front row of the plane, said the man involved was brought to the front row and seated near her. She said his legs appeared to be badly burned and his pants were cut off. She said he was taken off the plane handcuffed to a stretcher.

RELATED: 5 Black Men Convicted For Terrorism in Miami

One law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mutallab’s name had surfaced earlier on at least one U.S. intelligence database, but he was not on a watch list or a no-fly list.

The suspect boarded in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to DetroitRep. Peter King, the ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN. A spokeswoman for police at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam declined comment about the case or about security procedures at the airport for Flight 253.

Dutch airline KLM says the connection in Amsterdam from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit involves a change in carrier and a change in aircraft.

Schiphol airport, one of Europe‘s busiest with a heavy load of transit passengers from Africa and Asia to North America, strictly enforces European security regulations including only allowing small amounts of liquid in hand luggage that must be placed inside clear plastic bags. rjam Snoerwang.

A spokesman for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Akin Olukunle, said all passengers and their luggage are screened before boarding international flights. He also said the airport in Lagos cleared a U.S. Transportation Security Administration audit in November.

“We had a pass mark,” Olukunle said. “We actually are up to standards in all senses.”

Nigeria’s information minister, Dora Akunyili, condemned the attempted bombing. She said the government has opened its own investigation into the suspect and will work with U.S. authorities.

“We state very clearly that as a nation we abhor all forms of violence,” Akunyili said in a statement issued Saturday.

RELATED: 5 Black Men Convicted For Terrorism in Miami

London’s Metropolitan Police also was working with U.S. officials, a spokeswoman said, and searches were being conducted in that city. The spokeswoman would not provide additional details, including what connection the suspect had to London or what was being searched. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which acquired Northwest last year, said a passenger caused a disturbance, was subdued, and the crew requested that law enforcement officials meet the flight.

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 smoke smell. Then, he said, “a young man behind me jumped on him.”

RELATED: Condi Rice Says Leaving Afghanistan Will Lead To More Terrorism

“Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic,” he said.

Federal officials said there would be heightened security for both domestic and international flights at airports across the country, but the intensified levels would likely be “layered,” differing from location to location depending on alerts, security concerns and other factors.

Passengers can expect to see heightened screening, more bomb-sniffing dog and officer units and behavioral-detection specialists at some airports, but there will also be unspecified less visible precautions as well, officials said.

The FBI and the Homeland Security Department issued an intelligence note on Nov. 20 about the threat picture for the holiday season, which was obtained by The Associated Press. At the time, officials said they had no specific information about attack plans by al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.

President Barack Obama was notified of the incident and discussed it with security officials, the White Housesaid. Officials said he is monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from his vacation spot inHawaii.

[Updated 12.25.09, 7:45 p.m.]

Nigerian Passenger Tries To Blow Up U.S. Plane “On Al Qaeda’s Orders”

WASHINGTON — A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on al-Qaida’s instructions, tried to blow up the plane Friday as it was landing in Detroit, law enforcement and national security officials said.

RELATED: 5 Black Men Convicted For Terrorism in Miami

Passengers subdued the man and may have prevented him from detonating the explosives, the officials said.

“We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism,” a White House official said.

Federal officials imposed stricter screening measures after the incident.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee, identified the suspect as Abdul Mudallad, a Nigerian. King said the flight began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit. There were 278 passengers aboard the Airbus 330.

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, Cory said in an e-mail message. The plane landed at 11:51 a.m. EST.

One of the U.S. intelligence officials said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it.

The passenger was being questioned Friday evening. An intelligence source said the Nigerian passenger was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Mich., hospital.

All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

RELATED: Condi Rice Says Leaving Afghanistan Will Lead To More Terrorism

One law enforcement source said the man claimed to have been instructed by al-Qaida 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.

The official declined to describe what additional measures law enforcement was taking.

The White House was coordinating briefings for the president through the Homeland Security Department, the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI.

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 in Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said. She didn’t know the person’s condition, or whether the person was a man or woman. She referred all inquiries to the FBI.

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 smoke smell. Then, he said, “a young man behind me jumped on him.”

“Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic,” he said.

Rich Griffith, a passenger from Pontiac, said he was seated too far in the back to see what had happened. But he said he didn’t mind being detained on the plane for several hours. “It’s frustrating if you don’t want to keep your country safe,” he said. “We can’t have what’s going on everywhere else happening here.”

President Barack 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.

J.P. Karas, 55, of Wyandotte, Mich., said he was driving down a road near the airport and saw a Delta jet at the end of the runway, surrounded by police cars, an ambulance, a bus and some TV trucks.

“I don’t ever recall seeing a plane on that runway ever before and I pass by there frequently,” he said.

Karas said it was difficult to tell what was going on, but it looked like the front wheel was off the runway.

“We encourage those with future travel plans to stay in touch with their airline and to visit http://www.tsa.gov for updates,” Homeland Security Department said in a statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been briefed on the incident and is closely monitoring the situation.

The department encouraged travelers to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials.

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