Details are still sketchy, but it does appear to have been a serious, if botched, terrorism attempt.
A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.
The man was quickly subdued after another passenger leapt on top of him, others on the plane said, and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam landed safely around 1 p.m. Friday. The suspect was being treated at a hospital for burns he suffered while igniting the device, the Transportation Security Administration said….
Officials said they are not prepared to raise the terrorism alert level, currently at orange — or the second-highest of five levels — for domestic and international air travel. However, the Homeland Security Department said late Friday that passengers “may notice additional screening measures, put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights.”
The suspect is Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a federal official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. ABC News and NBC News reported that Abdulmutallab, 23, attends University College London, where he studies engineering.
Although not on the TSA’s “no-fly” list, Abdulmutallab’s name appears to be included in the government’s records of terrorism suspects, according to a preliminary review, authorities said.
Abdulmutallab has told federal investigators that he had ties to al-Qaeda and traveled to Yemen to collect the incendiary device and instructions on how to use it, according to a federal counterterrorism official briefed on the case. Authorities have yet to verify the claim, and they expect to conduct several more interviews before they determine whether he is credible, the official said.
Federal authorities have been told that Abdulmutallab allegedly had taped some material to his leg, then used a syringe to mix chemicals with the powder while on the airplane, one official said.
But doing so “caused him to catch on fire,” Richelle Keepman, who sat a few rows in front of Abdulmutallab, told WDIV-TV.
Meanwhile, The New York Times recounts the history of such attempts to bypass airline security procedures:
Friday’s incident brought to mind Richard C. Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, who attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami in December 2001 by igniting explosives in his shoes. Mr. Reid was subdued by a flight attendant and passengers and the plane landed safely in Boston. Mr. Reid later pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related counts and was sentenced to life in prison. Since then, airline passengers have had to remove their shoes before passing through security checkpoints in American airports.
In August 2006, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up planes bound for the United States using explosives that would be mixed with liquids on board. Eight men were arrested, and three were convicted in the case this fall. British authorities estimated that as many as 2,000 airplane passengers might have been killed had the plotters been successful. The plot led security officials to limit the amount of liquids and gels that passengers can bring on board in their carry-on baggage.