|Alarm bells that went unheeded: Even bomber's own father named him as a fanatic
Mail | December 28, 2009
President Obama ordered an urgent review of airline security yesterday after it was revealed that U.S. authorities had known of the bomber's terrorist connections for more than a month.
Former London student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was added to an American counter-terrorism watch list in November.
The alarm was raised by the 23-year-old Nigerian's father, who was so worried about his son's extremist behaviour that he alerted U.S. officials.
His son is said to have told his family he wanted to 'break' from them and gone to study in Yemen.
His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, was so concerned he went to Yemen to try to persuade his son to return to Nigeria.
When he failed, he carried out further inquiries and is said to have discovered that he was mixing with radicals who were close to a number of organisations linked to terrorism.
Despite this, Abdulmutallab, a former engineering student at University College, London, was still allowed to board Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam with an explosive device strapped to his body.
The known radical's family released a statement today, confirming that he had vanished while studying abroad.
They said his father contacted Nigerian security services two months ago after his 'disappearance and stoppage of communications'.
Mr Mutallab then turned to foreign security agencies for 'their assistance to find and return him home', the statement added.
It said: 'It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day.'
Question marks over why Abdulmutallab was allowed to evade security grew yesterday as it became clear just how close he came to downing the transatlantic jet carrying 278 passengers.
Alarm bells should have been set off by the fact that he bought a ticket in cash - paying $2,831 (£1,775) - a week ago at the KLM office in Accra, Ghana, to fly from Lagos to Detroit via Schiphol, and travelled without any checked-in luggage.
The combination of buying in a third country, paying cash and having no luggage should have been suspicious.
Mr Obama wants to know how he was allowed to board the plane and has also ordered a review of security watch-lists after it emerged the Nigerian had been placed on one as a terror risk.
Abdulmutallab used the same PETN high explosive that shoe bomber Richard Reid carried in his failed airliner attack in 2001.
The drama erupted minutes before the plane was due to land in the U.S. After sitting silently for most of the eight-hour flight, Abdulmutallab made his move as the plane approached Detroit.
He had selected seat 19A, directly above the wings and fuel tank, to maximise the explosive's effect. His left leg was against the fuselage.
About an hour out he went to the lavatory for 20 minutes. When he returned he told neighbours he had an upset stomach and covered himself with a blanket.
He was seen fidgeting under it, then fellow passengers heard popping sounds and smelt smoke as Abdulmutallab tried to ignite the device.
Passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film maker, heard a noise like a firework and saw smoke rising from several seats away across the aisle.
He said: 'When I saw the suspect was on fire, I freaked. I didn't think. Without hesitation, I just jumped over the seats.'
Chaos erupted as the 32-year-old Dutchman grabbed Abdulmutallab and frantically searched him.
His right hand in bandages, Mr Schuringa said: 'I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking out of him. He had put something on fire that was hidden in his pants.'
Mr Schuringa shouted for water and tried to put out the flames with his hands. He said a liquid dripped on to the floor, where two pillows burst into flames.
Passengers screamed as the flight crew scrambled for fire extinguishers. 'It went very quick,' said Mr Schuringa. 'I grabbed the suspect out of the seat because if he was wearing any more explosives, it would be very dangerous.
'We took him to first class and stripped him to make sure he had no more weapons, no more bombs.'
Abdulmutallab appeared to be 'in a trance', he added.
'He was staring into nothing. The whole plane was screaming, but the suspect, he didn't say a word.' When Mr Schuringa rose to get off the plane after the prisoner was led away in shackles, his fellow passengers broke out in applause
He said: 'A lot of people were trying to help. We had very brave flight attendants. They are also heroes.'
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last night: 'It's amazing that an individual like this, who was sending out so many signals, could get on a plane going to the U.S. There's so much to investigate here.
Abdulmutallab was treated in hospital before being released into the custody of federal marshals.
A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Detroit, Gina Balaya, said he is being kept in a secure location - likely to be a federal prison.
Abdulmutallab told officials he had been recruited by an al Qaeda cell in Yemen. Investigators said his device may have failed because it was not detonated properly.
With anger growing over the apparent security lapse, Mr Obama launched a probe to determine whether it represented a significant failure in anti-terror defences.
The president came under fire himself for not breaking off from his holiday in Hawaii to personally reassure the public.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr Obama had ordered a full review of law enforcement and intelligence databases related to the terrorism no-fly list.
'Did we do what we needed to do with that information, and how can we review watch-listing procedures going forward to ensure there's no clog in the bureaucratic plumbing of information,' he said.
U.S. lawmakers were also planning hearings on Capitol Hill to discover who is to blame for allowing Abdulmutallab to pass unnoticed through security checkpoints.
Four weeks ago, the would-be terrorist's father told the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, that he was worried about his son's increasingly radical religious beliefs and the information was passed to intelligence officials.
As a result, the suspect's name was put last month on a watch list, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment or TIDE, kept by the Washington-based U.S.
National Counter-terrorism Centre. About 550,000 people are in the database, which funnels information to a second list, the Terrorist Screening Data Base, or TSDB, of about 400,000 names.
However, Abdulmutallab was not among the fewer than 4,000 individuals on a 'no-fly list', barring them from U.S.-bound flights, or the 14,000 earmarked for secondary screening at airports.
According to an Obama administration official, at the time Abdulmutallab was added to the TIDE database, there was 'insufficient derogatory information available' on the former University College London student to warrant including him on any of the more urgent watch lists.
Authorities were also trying to find out how Abdulmutallab obtained a U.S. visa even though British officials denied him a student visa last May after he applied using the name of a bogus college.
Senator Joe Lieberman, head of the U.S. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said: 'I am troubled by several aspects, including how the suspect escaped the attention of the State Department and law enforcers when his father apparently reported concerns about his extremist behaviour, how the suspect managed to retain a U.S. visa after such complaints, and why he was not recognised as someone who reportedly was named in the terrorist database.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said being on a TIDE list meant 'his name had come up somewhere, somehow'.
She added. 'There was never information that would put this individual on a "no fly" list.'