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Flight 253 passenger: Sharp-dressed man aided terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab onto plane without passport (MLive.com exclusive)
MLive.com | December 26, 2009
A Michigan man who was aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 says he witnessed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab trying to board the plane in Amsterdam without a passport.
Kurt Haskell of Newport, Mich., who posted an earlier comment about his experience, talked exclusively with MLive.com and confirmed he was on the flight by sending a picture of his boarding pass. He and his wife, Lori, were returning from a safari in Uganda when they boarded the NWA flight on Friday.
Haskell said he and his wife were sitting on the ground near their boarding gate in Amsterdam, which is when they saw Mutallab approach the gate with an unidentified man.
Kurt and Lori Haskell are attorneys with Haskell Law Firm in Taylor. Their expertise includes bankruptcy, family law and estate planning.
While Mutallab was poorly dressed, his friend was dressed in an expensive suit, Haskell said. He says the suited man asked ticket agents whether Mutallab could board without a passport. “The guy said, 'He's from Sudan and we do this all the time.'”
Mutallab is Nigerian. Haskell believes the man may have been trying to garner sympathy for Mutallab's lack of documents by portraying him as a Sudanese refugee.
The ticket agent referred Mutallab and his companion to her manager down the hall, and Haskell didn't see Mutallab again until after he allegedly tried to detonate an explosive on the plane.
Haskell said the flight was mostly unremarkable. That was until he heard a flight attendant say she smelled smoke, just after the pilot announced the plane would land in Detroit in 10 minutes. Haskell got out of his seat to view the brewing commotion.
“I stood up and walked a couple feet ahead to get a closer look, and that's when I saw the flames,” said Haskell, who sat about seven rows behind Mutallab. “It started to spread pretty quickly. It went up the wall, all the way to ceiling.”
Haskell, who described Mutallab as a diminutive man who looks like a teenager, said about 30 seconds passed between the first mention of smoke and when Mutallab was subdued by fellow passengers.
“He didn't fight back at all. This wasn't a big skirmish,” Haskell said. “A couple guys jumped on him and hauled him away.”
The ordeal has Haskell and his wife a little shaken. Flight attendants were screaming during the fire and the pilot sounded notably nervous when bringing the plane in for a landing, he said.
“Immediately, the pilot came on and said two words: emergency landing,” Haskell said. “And that was it. The plane sped up instead of slowing down. You could tell he floored it.”
As Mutallab was being led out of the plane in handcuffs, Haskell said he realized that was the same man he saw trying to board the plane in Amsterdam.
Passengers had to wait about 20 minutes before they were allowed to exit the plane. Haskell said he and other passengers waited about six hours to be interviewed by the FBI.
About an hour after landing, Haskell said he saw another man being taken into custody. But a spokeswoman from the FBI in Detroit said Mutallab was the only person taken into custody.