Detroit bomb suspect on terrorism watch list

ABC News | December 27, 2009
By North America correspondent Lisa Millar for AM

US President Barack Obama has ordered reviews of airport security and the country's terrorism watch lists after the attempted bombing of a passenger jet as it came in to land at Detroit on Christmas Day.

Twenty-three-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to set off an explosive device sewn to his underwear as the airliner came in to land, but was stopped by passengers and crew.

It appears the lives of the 290 people on board the plane were only saved because the explosives failed to detonate.

Mr Obama wants to know why someone on a terrorism watch list did not set off security concerns and why tight airport security did not discover explosives strapped to the accused bomber's body.

The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman, was incredulous to learn that the suspect's father had alerted the US to his son's extreme religious views.

"What happened after this man's father called our embassy in Nigeria? Was there follow up in any way to try to determine where this suspect was?" he said.

"Secondly it appears that he was recently put on a broad terrorism screening list - a database. Why wasn't that database activated?"

There are 500,000 names on the screening list so simply being on it does not prevent anyone from flying into the US.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says there was not enough information about the 23-year-old Nigerian to put him on the more critical no-fly list of 4,000 names.

"We are going to go back and really do a minute-by-minute, day-by-day scrub of that sort of thing but when he presented himself to fly he was on a tide list," she said.

"What a tide list simply says is his name had come up somewhere somehow. But the no-fly list and selectee list require that there be specific derogative information, and that was not available throughout the law enforcement community."

Critics say it appears the dots are still not being connected despite the rigorous inquiries after the September 11 attacks.

Republican Richard Shelby was on the Senate Intelligence Committee during that period.

"I believe this is a jolt for us, more than a wake-up call," he said.

"We've got to, I believe, get better at sharing information between the State Department people who issue visas and the law enforcement; home land security, FBI and so forth.

"We can do better but this war is going to go on 50 years, we've better wake up again."

With Republicans and independents already demanding hearings on Capitol Hill, the President's chief spokesman Robert Gibbs was making it clear Barack Obama was going to move first.

"Did the government do everything that it could have with the information they had?" he said.

"How can we revise watch list procedures going forward to ensure that there's no clog in the bureaucratic plumbing of information that might be gathered somewhere, going to the very highest levels of security in our government."

Senator Joe Lieberman wants an even wider discussion about the threat posed by Yemen, where Abdulmutallab allegedly received the materials he needed to bring down the plane.

"Somebody in our government said to me in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday's war, Afghanistan is today's war," he said.

"If we don't act pre-emptively Yemen will be tomorrow's war. That's the danger we face."