US airports increase security after foiled plane attack

December 26th, 2009 - 11:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, Dec 26 (IANS) US authorities have moved to increase security at the country’s airports over the Christmas weekend after what lawmakers called a “disturbing” and “extremely serious” attempted terrorist attack on an Amsterdam-Detroit flight.

A Nigerian passenger, who claimed to have ties to Al Qaeda, was subdued after he tried to ignite a powdery substance just before a Northwest Airlines flight with 278 passengers on board landed at Detroit.

The White House and lawmakers are calling it an attempted act of terrorism. The suspect, identified by a US government official as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, is in custody and may be charged later Saturday.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials would not discuss the suspect’s possible motives, said FOXNews.com.

However, DHS and the FBI have since issued a “situational awareness bulletin” to state and local law enforcement across the country, and to the airline industry, the channel said citing a source.

According to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official cited by Fox News, these additional measures could include bomb-sniffing dogs, gate screening, behaviour detection and other precautions.

Reflecting the severity of the incident, a number of lawmakers were tracked down on Christmas Day to be briefed on the incident. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Democrat Bennie Thompson, top Republican Peter King, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican senator Susan Collins were among them.

King told Fox News that Mutallab “definitely has connections” to Al Qaeda, but he was not on any “no-fly list”.

However, another source cited by the channel said the suspect did come up in another federal database after authorities checked his name Friday.

“This could have been catastrophic,” King told Fox News. “We were lucky on this one.” King said there is no evidence that this was part of a larger plot.

King said Mutallab tried to set off “a fairly sophisticated device”, and he was “seriously injured”. Some other passengers suffered minor injuries, an airline official said.

King said the device “appears to be different from what we’ve encountered before” and therefore may not have been detected by airport screeners.

Fox News cited a source familiar with the FBI investigation as saying the device was affixed to the suspect’s leg and was to be detonated with a syringe.

King said Mutallab boarded a plane in Nigeria and connected in Amsterdam on his way to Detroit.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, released a written statement questioning how the passenger was allowed on board and what the TSA can do to prevent such an incident from recurring.

Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said his panel would hold hearings come January. “Any terrorist attempt on our citizens is extremely serious,” he said.

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