A Nigerian man with reported links to al Qa'eda tried to blow up a US airliner with a new type of explosive device.
Attempted terror attack on US airplane
A Nigerian man with reported links to al Qa'eda tried to blow up a US airliner with a new type of explosive device yesterday before being tackled by passengers in what officials said was an attempted Christmas Day terror attack. Some travellers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit panicked but others sprang into action, overwhelming the man as he lit the device, which reportedly made a popping sound and burst into flames.
The suspect's clothes caught fire and he suffered serious burn wounds. The incident could have been "catastrophic," US Representative Peter King told US media. White House officials and US lawmakers said the incident was a terror attack and the US president Barack Obama, on holiday with his family in Hawaii, ordered increased security measures after being briefed on the attempt. "We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism," a senior White House official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mr Obama held a secure conference call with his Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor John Brennan, and National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough. Mr Obama "instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," the White House said. "The president is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates," the statement read. The incident unfolded around noon local time when the passenger lit what was initially described as a firework.
Initial reports said the man had been "subdued" after causing a disturbance but no harm. But subsequent details painted a much more serious picture, in which a man with alleged extremist links had tried to set off a sophisticated and previously unused type of explosive. Mr King, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security committee, said the passenger was a 23-year-old Nigerian who boarded the plane in Nigeria.
"My understanding also is that while he is not on a watch list, he definitely has terror connections," Mr King told Fox news. "There is a terrorist nexus leading towards al Qa'aeda involving this assailant." Mr King said the man had tried to detonate "a fairly sophisticated device." "When it did go off he himself was seriously injured, my understanding is he has third degree burns. This could have been catastrophic," Mr King said.
Mr King said that it could have been "a somewhat new type of device. "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," he added. 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.
Sandra Berchtold, an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit, told AFP the incident was under investigation, and the Transportation Safety Administration said it had isolated the plane and was conducting additional screening. "All passengers deplaned and out of an abundance of caution the plane was moved to a remote area where the plane and all the baggage are currently being rescreened," the agency said in a statement.
The incident drew comparisons with the case of the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who attempted to bomb a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001 by igniting explosives smuggled aboard in his shoes. As with the Reid case, initial reports suggested passengers were responsible for preventing a more serious situation. The Reid incident sparked an drastic increase in security on aeroplane flights. Syed Jafry, a passenger aboard the flight, told CNN that one traveller in particular tackled the man.
"He took care of that suspect. He handled him pretty good," Jaffry said. "There was a little bit, obviously, of a struggle. And I think he took it under control." In the Netherlands, antiterrorism officials said the suspect was not a Dutch national or resident. The man arrived at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport on a connecting flight, said Judith Sluiter, the spokeswoman for the Netherlands' antiterrorism coordinator.
Ms Sluiter however was unable to specify from which country the man had arrived to the airport but Mr King told Fox News the man "boarded the plane in Nigeria and then connected on in Amsterdam to Detroit." * AFP