A Nigerian man's alleged attempt to ignite an incendiary device on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam has caused airport security to be ramped up during peak holiday travel. The Obama White House has called the incident "an attempted act of terrorism."
While the official threat level has not been raised, "there will be things going on that you don't see and I don't see," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, told Politics Daily. U.S. law enforcement agencies "will also be in very close contact with our allies, with all our terrorist agencies operating at full throttle." King predicted "delays will probably be minimal. I think its going to be more surveillance, more watching. I would not expect significant delays."
Homeland Security Press Secretary Sara Kuban said "passengers may notice additional screening measures putting into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights."
King told Politics Daily the 23-year-old suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not on a terrorist no fly list--but was on the U.S. database of suspected terrorists, King said. Though Abdulmutallab claims to have been acting on direct orders from al Qaeda, ties have not been confirmed and he may have been inspired by, rather than acting in concert with, that particular terror group.
Abdulmutallab suffered third degree burns while igniting the device, King said, with the injuries not life threatening. "It was a somewhat sophisticated device, I'm not supposed to go into any of the details, but it was different, described to me as different from what's been used before, which maybe explains why he got on, how he was able to get through security." A liquid or a match was not used to set it off.
Delta, in the process of a merger with Northwest, said in a statement that the suspect was "subdued immediately" while "the crew requested that law enforcement meet the flight upon arrival." The 278-passenger flight landed safely with no other serious injuries.
"What could have been a catastrophe turns out the only one seriously injured was the suspect himself," King said.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, was told of the incident between 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Hawaii time by a military aide. In a statement, Burton said, "The President subsequently convened a secure conference call with John Brennan, his Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Adviser, and Denis McDonough, (National Security Council) Chief of Staff. He asked to arrange a subsequent secure call and in that call instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel. The President is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates. There is currently no change to his schedule."
King told Politics Daily that Abdulmutallab had "definite terrorist connections" and was part of a "terrorist nexus. ..his terrorist connections did not lend themselves to aviation threats, that's why he was not on a no-fly list which to me does not really make sense; if you're a terrorist you're a terrorist." And King said he had been told that Abdulmutallab had "definite al Qaeda links." Abdulmutallab boarded a flight in Lagos, Nigeria and switched planes in Amsterdam to the Detroit bound aircraft.
King said said authorities did have "a file on him. He was in a database, but the decision was made that he did not go on a no fly list because it did not involve aviation threats, aviation issues."
Because of a "significant terrorist presence" in Nigeria, King said, "maybe he should have been on the terrorist no fly list."
Late Friday night, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee-which oversees civil aviation--said the White House reached out to him about flight 253. "Any terrorist attempt on our citizens is extremely serious. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold hearings in January to look in to this incident and related security matters."
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