Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day Terror Plot Thwarted On Northwest Airlines Flight

Passengers helped thwart a terror attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew members from Amsterdam to Detroit as the plan was preparing to land. The terrorist, a Nigerian who claimed to be acting on orders of al Qaeda, apparently tried to ignite some kind of explosive, but an alert passenger jumped over a row of seats to stop the plot:
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.

"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.
The man has since been identified as Abdul Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23. According to federal documents, he is an engineering student at University College of London who was flying from Nigeria to the US for a religious seminar. British authorities are searching his residence in London, and British Airways has further restricted carry-on luggage to one piece per person.

US law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have to track down his whereabouts, and how he got from Nigeria to Amsterdam, along with who he contacted and how he acquired the materials needed to make the explosive device.

New York Congressman Peter King, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, was briefed by intelligence officials shortly after the plane landed.  "Well, some definite facts.  One is that he has al-Qaida connections. Secondly, that it was a fairly sophisticated device."

Mutallab, an engineering student who studied in Britain, told investigators he was acting on instructions from al-Qaida and got the explosive materials in Yemen.  Those claims have yet to be confirmed.  But Congressman King says there is plenty of reason to worry. 

"How he was able to get on in Nigeria, what happened in Amsterdam, which is a visa waiver country, how he was able to get through and make it this far with the devices he had, these are all issues that have to be resolved."

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered security measures to be stepped up at all U.S. airports.  And security officials are encouraging passengers to be observant and report any suspicious activity.
 The explosive appears to be a mixture of powder and liquid that failed to properly detonate, and that's got law enforcement concerned over a new threat. Expect further restrictions on what is permissible to be carried onto airlines in the near future as the experts try to figure out the nature of the explosive that Mutallah attempted to use.

It appears that US officials may have known that Mutallah had terror ties; and yet despite this they still approved a travel visa in 2008 that would be valid through 2010.

In the end, it was alert passengers who took matters into their own hands to thwart the terrorist on the Northwest Airlines flight, so while Congress will go ahead and carry out hearings in January about the terror incident, it remains the public at large remaining vigilant to thwart terror plots where they can.

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