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Saturday, December 26,2009

Attempted attack raises airport security concerns

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

DETROIT — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's 20-minute trip to the bathroom Friday was the first hint to passengers of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 that Christmas Day was going to have an unexpected and terrifying conclusion.

He came back to seat 19A on the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit just minutes before landing, complaining of a stomachache and asking for a blanket.

What no one knew at the time was the 23-year-old Nigerian had an explosive strapped to his body.

Suddenly, passengers heard a loud pop. Abdulmutallab had tried to detonate the device, filled with PETN — also known as the highly explosive pentaerythritol — and triggered flames and smoke.

"I just jumped over the seats and jumped over the suspect," said passenger Jasper Schuringa in an interview with CNN this afternoon.

"The whole plane was screaming. The suspect didn't say a word. He was just ablaze. He was just entranced."

Schuringa, other passengers and the flight crew were able to subdue Abdulmutallab, believed to be the son of a prominent Nigerian banker, extinguish the fire and turn the terrorism suspect over to federal authorities before the attempt turned into a tragedy over the skies of Detroit.

Abdulmutallab, who has told federal authorities he was acting on orders from al-Qaida, was arraigned Saturday at the University of Michigan Burn Center on charges of trying to destroy an aircraft and place a destructive device on an aircraft, which carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of $250,000.

The flight carried 279 passengers from all over the world, traveling home for the holidays, visiting friends abroad and trying as hard as they could to catch connecting flights once the Airbus 330 touched down at Detroit Metro Airport about noon.

As federal authorities dissect what they're calling a terrorist attack, the rest of the world is left wondering how Abdulmutallab got into the country in the first place.

And how, in light of 9/11 and other attempted and successful terrorist attacks, he got an explosive device on a flight.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who talked with Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan on Friday, said "this guy had a little more coordination because he had to get his hands on this device."

He also apparently had communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born imam connected to Ft. Hood, Texas, shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Hoekstra said.

"There's a rather significant connection," he said. "But thank goodness al-Qaida is still somewhat sloppy."

As for the device, it was made of plastic, which wouldn't be detected by airport metal detectors, and passengers saw Abdulmutallab holding a smoking syringe that also was used in trying to detonate the device.

Experts doubted Abdulmutallab's intended target was Detroit, but rather causing an explosion over any heavily populated U.S. city.

"He was just willing to catch any airliner that would take him anywhere in the United States, whether it's New York or Los Angeles or Detroit," said Gregory Lee, a criminal justice consultant in Pebble Beach, Calif., and retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent involved in the arrest of terrorist Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind on the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. "And he waited until the final approach trying to make sure the plane crashed in a heavily populated area."

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Now... tell us about Kurt Haskell. You can't possibly understand this story without knowing what passengers Kurt and Lori Haskell have to say about it.

Google "Kurt Haskell underwear bomber".