The U.S. government charged Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man, with attempting to destroy a Northwest Airlines plane from Amsterdam as it was landing in Detroit yesterday. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "ad this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured. We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously, and we will use all measures available to our government to ensure that anyone responsible for this attempted attack is brought to justice." And the Justice Department's statement notes:
Interviews of all of the passengers and crew of Flight 253 revealed that prior to the incident, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for approximately twenty minutes, according to the affidavit. Upon returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odor, and some observed Abdulmutallab’s pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire. Passengers and crew then subdued Abdulmutallab and used blankets and fire extinguishers to put out the flames. Passengers reported that Abdulmutallab was calm and lucid throughout. One flight attendant asked him what he had had in his pocket, and he replied "explosive device."
Passenger Jasper Schuringa who subdued Abdulmutallab told CNN he thought a firecracker had gone off. But another passenger yelled, "Fire! Fire!" so Schuringa says he jumped over to Abdulmutallab's seat and saw the man holding a burning object: "I pulled the object from him and tried to extinguish the fire with my hands and threw it away." Then Schuringa dragged Abdutallab to the front to the plane, noting that Abdulmutallab "was staring into nothing." The Dutch resident said, "My hands are pretty burned. I am fine. I am shaken up. I am happy to be here."
ABC News reports that officials say there was more than enough explosive to bring down the plane and that the only a faulty makeshift detonator helped avert disaster. Also, Abdulmutallab, an engineering student at a university in London, reportedly told investigators "he made contact via the internet with a radical imam in Yemen who then connected him with al Qaeda leaders in a village north of the country's capital, Sanaa."
The U.S. had an investigative file on Abdulmutallab after his father, a prominent banker, told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son had increasingly extremist views. A senior White House official told the NY Times, based on the continuing investigation, "The information was passed into the system, but the expression of radical extremist views were very nonspecific. We were evaluating him, but the information we had was not a lot to go on."
The TSA is now imposing new travel restrictions; per an Air Canada statement, "New rules imposed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration also limit on-board activities by customers and crew in U.S. airspace that may adversely impact on-board service. Among other things, during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps." The Times says, "Overseas passengers will be restricted to only one carry-on item aboard the plane, and domestic passengers will probably face longer security lines."