A lone 23-year-old Nigerian tried to destroy Christmas for 289 fellow passengers and crew aboard an airline flight from Nigeria to Detroit when he attempted to ignite an incendiary device he had concealed in his underwear, this as the plane approached the runway to touchdown in Detroit. The suspected terrorist had boarded KLM flight 588 in Nigeria, transferring to Delta/NW flight 253 in Amsterdam on his way to America. Passengers said they saw smoke, fire and heard popping sounds as the suspected bomber allegedly attempted to set himself and the plane afire.
Local authorities and FBI Agents in Detroit arrested Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab onboard the flight he attempted to bring down with 278 passengers and 11 crew members aboard. The suspect was severely injured by his device; sustaining second and third degree burns on his hands and thighs, this while two other passengers were injured as they successfully subdued him. The suspected bomber yelled, screamed and cursed while making statements concerning the war in the Middle East and especially Afghanistan.
Mutallab, believed to be the son of the former chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, was born in Great Britain and is allegedly an engineering student. His father believed he started to become radicalized in the summer of 2008, at the time he left his college studies in mechanical engineering. While he has allegedly claimed to be an al-Qaeda operative, this claim has yet to be verified as authorities work to determine if he was “simply” a lone radicalized Islamic fundamentalist, perhaps like American Richard Reid who attempted to bring down AAL flight 63 on December 22, 2001. As the investigation develops, it appears clear that he was a terrorist operative and had been instructed by others regarding his Christmas suicide mission. A name similar to Mutallab’s allegedly appears on a list of over 400,000 individuals suspected to have ties to terrorism, but he did not appear as one of the 4,000 individuals on the "no fly list." He is currently believed to be talking freely with the FBI, and while initially claiming ties with al-Qaeda, he may now have denied such a connection. He is also alleged to have said that his explosive device was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used. It was in Yemen in 2000 that the USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers, resulting in the death of 17 U.S. sailors.
This was not Mutallab's first attempt to enter America, however, as he had received by a visa in June 2008. At that time he listed his residence as Houston, Texas. Mutallab's name, with hundreds of others, had been placed on a preliminary watch list, as authorities wanted to gather more information about him. What U.S., British and Nigerian officials knew about any terroristic tendencies on his part is currently unknown.
How he did it
The current suspect, who was seated in seat 19A, is believed to have smuggled a powdery substance aboard the aircraft in a contained strapped to his leg or somehow sewn into his underwear that he used to mix the compound he attempted to ignite aboard the airliner. Witnesses told investigators they saw the suspect exit the toilet with a pillow held over his stomach and a syringe in his hand.
He is thought to have placed a pillow or airline blanket over his legs to hide his assembly of the device, this by using a syringe (carried in his hand baggage) to inject a liquid into the powder to make his firebomb functional. Evidently Mutallab then ignited or otherwise attempted to detonate the device while he held it in-between his own legs. The FBI has indicated the device contained up to 80 grams of Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), a high explosive compound similar to nitroglycerin. As he attempted to ignite his device, his detonator somehow failed, giving his fellow passengers enough time to jump over seats to separate him from his weapon, tearing the bomber’s clothing from his body to insure he presented no other threat to the aircraft and those aboard. He was then taken to the first class section of the airliner and set quietly as the plane landed safely. Law enforcement officers swarmed aboard the airplane and took Mutallab into custody and hustled him off the plane he had just attempted to destroy. It would be another five hours before the other passengers and crew were released by authorities.
Investigators are now working in both Nigeria and Amsterdam to determine if all appropriate security and passenger screening measures were taken concerning the suspected terrorist, this while England’s Scotland Yard searches the suspect’s downtown London apartment for clues concerning his actions and possible associates. The remains of the suspect’s device have been taken to the FBI Laboratory as that agency searches for clues to its composition and manufacture. A similar analysis of the shoes work by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid revealed fingerprints and other physical evidence in the shoes suggesting some other unidentified bomb maker had build the 50 gram PETN explosive device Reid attempted to ignite aboard that airliner, this a little more than eight-years before the current incident.
As the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, terrorist groups as well as lone-wolf radicals continue to target commercial airlines since the events of 9/11/01. Passengers will likely see yet new and intrusive security measures implemented in airports across the world after this most recent incident, with additional requirements for secondary screening and more detained body searches being conducted.
Have no doubt that there is a radicalized segment of Islam (remember US Army Major Nidal Hasan) that believes it is at war with America, Great Britain and other countries and will use every weapon at its disposal to prosecute their belief of the war. Many young and intelligent Muslims have converted to the radicalized form of their religion and believe any sacrifice, to include suicide, is justified in this war on religion and terror.
The Future of Airline Passenger Screening
It was just three months ago that three men were convicted in an English court for conspiring to bomb seven trans-Atlantic airliners on a single day with liquid explosives smuggled aboard in soft-drink bottles and detonated by devices powered with AA batteries. The bombers’ planned to drain plastic soft-drink bottles with syringes and refill them with concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This discovery led to new measures prohibiting airline passengers from carrying aboard large quantities of liquids and creams. These security measures, like those enacted after the arrest of Richard Ried, caused additional passenger waiting time at airport screening checkpoints across the planet, this while authorities struggled to keep up with the new technologies being developed by terrorists to circumvent traditional screening methods. In this case the plotters had even prepared martyrdom videos indicating their plan was designed to exact revenge on the U.S. and Great Britain for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Don’t mess with the Muslims," the plotters expounded on their videos.
Metal detectors and even multi-million dollar bomb sniffing devices would not have detected the otherwise benign components carried and assembled by the current suspect, and, along with the above, have ushered us into yet a new era of fear and concern as passengers. Many governments are experimenting with facial recognition software, used to compare the faces of passengers to known or suspected terrorists, and with other high tech software said to detect facial movements that could indicate someone with something to hide or a person on the lookout for security.
Some have been quick to protest the use of behavioral-detection specialists at 161 different U.S. airports, although this technique may prove to be our best non-technical approach to detecting potential suicide bombers and hijackers. Thousands of TSA employees have been trained to look for physical“deviations from baseline behavior.” If such are observed, the potential passenger is usually engaged in a face-to-face conversation where screeners determine if a second, more intensive interview, as well as a luggage and body search are justified. Last year this technique was used to identify 100,000 passengers for additional screening, 10,000 that were eventually questioned by police of which over 800 were ultimately arrested for various crimes, many times involving drugs. And while some believe this type of screening to be an "Orwellian" technique that is far less than perfect, most of us have begrudgingly accepted such measures as a necessary evil in our quest for safety and security in the post 9/11 world of airline travel. The train is looking better and better isn't it?...