Nigerian Suspect Charged In NWA Bomb Plot


northwestThe man who allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines airplane just before landing in Detroit was charged in Federal court this afternoon. Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, was charged with attempting to destroy the aircraft and placing a destructive device on the aircraft.

The prosecution will be handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

An official briefed on the alleged attack says the U.S. has known for at least two years that Mutallab could have terrorist ties and appeared on a terror watch list of people with “suspect connections.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The attempted bombing happened as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam prepared to land in Detroit just before noon yesterday.

The attack began with a pop and a puff of smoke – sending passengers scrambling to subdue Mutallab, who claimed to be acting on orders from al Qaeda to blow up the airliner, officials and travelers said. They took Mutallab to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Authorities told CBS News he suffered third-degree burns.

A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into powder located near his thigh, a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks. It’s possible, the source said, that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage.

Officials believe Mutallab was using the chemical PETN, a highly explosive, colorless organic compound, and is related to nitroglycerin. They believe Mutallab may have brought the substance in inside a soft, rubber container.

Introduced as an explosive after World War I, PETN is “valued for its shattering force and efficiency … and is the least stable of the common military explosives but retains its properties in storage for longer periods than nitroglycerin or cellulose nitrate (nitrocellulose) does.”

PETN is also used in heart medication as a stimulant.

Mutallab claimed to have been instructed by al Qaeda to detonate the plane over U.S. soil, said a U.S. law enforcement official. But others cautioned that such claims could not be verified immediately. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

In Nigeria, Mutallab’s father told The Associated Press that his son, a former university student in London, had left Britain to travel abroad and may have gone to Yemen, an unstable country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula where al Qaeda has increasingly found safe havens. Alhaji Umaru Abdul Mutallab said he didn’t know exactly where his son was and planned to speak with Nigerian authorities Saturday.

“I believe he might have been to Yemen, but we are investigating to determine that,” said the elder Mutallab, who served as chairman of First Bank of Nigeria from 1999 through this month. He said he would provide more details later Saturday as he learned more from authorities.

The White House said it believed the incident on Christmas day 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.

Some airlines were telling passengers today that new government security regulations prohibit them from leaving their seats beginning an hour before landing. Air Canada said in a statement that new rules imposed by the Transportation Security Administration limit on-board activities by passengers and crew in U.S. airspace. The airline said that during the final hour of flight passengers must remain seated. They won’t be allowed access to carryon baggage or to have any items on their laps.
Flight attendants on some domestic flights are informing passengers of similar rules. Passengers on a flight from New York to Tampa Saturday morning were also told they must remain in their seats and couldn’t have items in their laps, including laptops and pillows.

The TSA declined to confirm the new restrictions.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement Saturday that passengers flying to the U.S. from overseas may notice extra security, but she said the measures “are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere.”

Napolitano posted the statement to the DHS Web site:

“I am grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results. The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place-for all domestic and international flights-to ensure the continued safety of the traveling public. We are also working closely with federal, state and local law enforcement on additional security measures, as well as our international partners on enhanced security at airports and on flights.

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.

One law enforcement official said the man claimed to have been instructed by al Qaeda 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.

“This does not strike us as having the earmarks of any kind of well-planned or well-orchestrated attack,” a senior security official told CBS News justice correspondent Bob Orr.

But some officials are concerned the suspect might have been directed by others, pointing to the fact that he was seated near the bulkhead of the plane – a location where an explosion would do significant damage.

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.

Passenger Syed Jafry, a U.S. citizen who had flown from the United Arab Emirates and was one of the 278 passengers onboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, said the incident occurred during the plane’s descent. Jafry said he was seated three rows behind the passenger, saw a glow and then smelled smoke.

It was another passenger, who Jafry described as being in his 20s or early 30s and having a medium, stocky build, who quickly jumped toward the man who had started the fire. The man was later identified as Jasper Schuringa, a resident of Amsterdam.

“He did a good job with his power, tackled him and put him under arrest,” Jafry said.

Melinda Dennis, another passenger 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.

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.

An intelligence official said he was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, hospital. A spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor said one passenger from the flight was taken there, but referred all inquiries to the FBI.

A law enforcement official said evidence seized from the suspect – including his tattered clothes – have been sent to the FBI laboratory at Quantico, Virginia. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because discussion of the ongoing investigation is not authorized.

Dutch anti-terrorism authorities said Mutallab was traveling on a U.S. visa valid through the first half of 2010.

Officials in the Netherlands said an initial investigation showed that routine security procedures were followed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with no irregularities. Mutallab’s name was on the passenger manifesto that was forwarded and approved by U.S. authorities before takeoff.

U.S. 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.

Some airlines in the U.S. have told passengers new rules require them to stay in seats one hour before landing.

U.S.-bound travelers were undergoing body searches at Amsterdam’s airport, and passengers flying to the United States from London’s Heathrow said they received text messages informing them that the hand baggage allowance had been reduced to one item.

“The extra measures apply worldwide on all flights to the U.S. as of now and for an indefinite period,” says Judith Sluiter, spokeswoman for the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

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

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.
a 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.

{CBS Broadcasting/ Newscenter}