Official: Attemped Act of Terrorism In AirDecember 25, 2009 - 3:01 PM | by: Mike Levine
An airline passenger claiming to have ties to Al Qaeda was subdued after he tried to ignite a powdery substance just before landing in Detroit, sources told FOX News.
A senior White House official called it an attempted act of terrorism.
The passenger, one of 278 passengers flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, is now in custody, according to a statement from the Transportation Security Administration.
The suspect, described by law enforcement officials as a Nigerian man in his early 20s, claimed extremist ties during questioning, sources said.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, identified the suspect as 23-year-old Abdul Mudallad of Nigeria, and King said Mudallad “definitely has connections” to Al Qaeda.
King said Mudallad was not on any “no-fly list,” but one source familiar with the investigation said the suspect did come up in another federal database after authorities checked his name on Friday.
“This could have been catastrophic,” said King, speaking to “FOX Report” Friday night. “We were lucky on this one.”
King said there is no evidence that this was part of a larger plot.
FBI and DHS officials would not discuss the suspect’s possible motives. However, the FBI has already issued an alert about the case to other law enforcement agencies, one source said.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama have been briefed on the situation, according to spokespeople for both.
“Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights,” DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban said in a statement. “As always we encourage the traveling public to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials.”
After being notified of the incident by a military aide, President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii with his family, convened a conference call with his counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, and other national security officials, a White House spokesman said.
“[He] instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. “The President is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates.”
Northwest Flight 253 was close to touching down at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport when it declared an emergency on board, an airline official said.
King said Mudallad tried to set off “a fairly sophisticated device,” and Mudallad 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.
A source familiar with the FBI investigation said the device was affixed to the suspect’s leg, and it was to be detonated with a syringe.
King said Mudallad boarded a plane in Nigeria and connected in Amsterdam on his way to Detroit.
Flight 253 was scheduled to arrive in Detroit at 11:40am, but arrived shortly after noon, according to Northwest’s web site.
The aircraft was “deplaned” and “out of an abundance of caution, the plane was moved to a remote area where the plane and all baggage [were] … rescreened,” the TSA said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called the incident “a disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert.”
She noted that this comes eight years after shoe-bomber Richard Reid tried to “blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in his shoe.”
–FOX News’ Catherine Herridge and Sarah Wolff contributed to this report