Obama orders review of US no-fly lists
(RAW STORY) President Barack Obama ordered Sunday a review of US no-fly watch-lists and demanded to know how a Nigerian man managed to board a Detroit-bound airliner wearing an explosive device.
The system used by US security agencies of lists that become shorter as the risk increases has come under fire since it emerged that the 23-year-old bomb suspect was on one of them when he embarked on his deadly suicide mission.
“There’s a series of data bases that list people of concern to several agencies across the government. We want to make sure information-sharing is going on,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC news.
The suspect, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, was added to one of the larger watch-lists last month after his father is said to have told US embassy officials in Abuja that he was concerned by his son’s increasing radicalism.
The suspect, whose father is a prominent Nigerian banker, remained off the no-fly list of just 18,000 names and was able to obtain a US visa and fly from Lagos to Amsterdam on Christmas Eve and on to Detroit the following day.
Obama had ordered a second review to examine how, “an individual with the chemical explosive he had on him could get on to an airliner in Amsterdam and fly into this country,” Gibbs said. Related article: Nigerians pulled to radicalism by education, poverty
US investigators are trying to piece together any terrorism connections of Abdulmutallab, who was charged Saturday with attempting to blow up the jetliner after reportedly confessing that he had been trained by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
But Obama’s top security official said Sunday there was “no indication” that Abdulmutallab was acting as part of a larger plot and warned against speculating that he had been trained by Al-Qaeda.
“This was one individual literally of thousands that fly and thousands of flights every year. And he was stopped before any damage could be done,” US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN.
Airport security was stepped up worldwide after the botched terror attack as British police combed premises where the suspect lived while studying mechanical engineering at the University of London between 2005 and 2008. Related article: Bomber ‘trained’ by Al-Qaeda in Yemen
Abdulmutallab was arraigned Saturday at the University of Michigan medical center where he was being treated for burns sustained while trying to bring down the Northwest Airlines flight, which had 290 people on board.
Judge Paul Borman read the charges against him during a 20-minute hearing. Reporters allowed to witness the event said Abdulmutallab was handcuffed to a wheelchair and wore bandages on both wrists and parts of his hands.
Preliminary FBI analysis found that the device the suspect used “contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive,” the charge sheet said. Related article: Fresh questions over air security
The explosive material was allegedly sewn into Abdulmutallab’s underwear and officials believe tragedy was averted only because the makeshift detonator failed to work properly, ABC News reported.
Abdulmutallab confessed that he had mixed a syringe full of chemicals with powder taped to his leg to try to blow up the flight, according to senior officials quoted by US media.
Other law enforcement officials quoted by ABC News and NBC said the suspect also admitted that he had been trained by Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and instructed specifically on how to carry out the attack.
According to The New York Times, Abdulmutallab told FBI agents he was connected to an Al-Qaeda affiliate, which operates largely in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted online.
But the newspaper said the cleric is not believed to be Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born imam who has spoken in favor of anti-American violence and who corresponded with Major Nidal Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist accused of killings 13 people in a shooting spree last month at Fort Hood, Texas. Related article: The London link
The attack, which sparked alarm and fear among the 279 passengers and 11 crew aboard the Airbus A330, had echoes of British-born Richard Reid’s botched “shoe-bomb” attempt eight years ago almost to the day.
It has renewed concerns over security and air travel despite recent upgrades following the Reid attack and a plot uncovered in Britain in 2006 to blow up transatlantic jets with liquid bombs.
“We’ve known for a long time that this is possible,” Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism czar told ABC News, referring to chemical explosives. Related article: story of a Dutch hero
“We really have to replace our scanning devices with more modern systems.”
Clarke said full body scans were needed, “but they’re expensive and they’re intrusive. They invade people’s privacy.”