US overhauls terror watch lists
(RAW STORY) US terror watch lists have been radically revised after a foiled attack on a US-bound jet, a White House spokesman said Monday, as tough new airport screening measures swung into effect.
Officials had conducted a major review of all the lists that determine whether a person is allowed to board a US-bound flight in a foreign country, spokesman Bill Burton said.
“Probably thousands upon thousands upon thousands of names were scrubbed, and probably dozens were moved to different lists,” he told journalists.
The news came as President Barack Obama, who has denounced “systemic” intelligence failures in the Christmas Day plot, prepared to meet with US intelligence chiefs and security officials on Tuesday to review the findings of two probes into the plot.
Obama has directly linked the Al-Qaeda network, responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, to the botched bid to blow up a Northwest jet with 290 people on board on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The administration has also ordered tight new security measures for passengers flying to the United States after a 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to bring down the jet.
Travelers flying from or via 14 countries including Iran, Nigeria and Yemen will have to undergo mandatory enhanced screening before boarding their US-bound flights, under the new rules.
According to US prosecutors, Abdulmutallab tried to bring down Flight 253 using a device containing the explosive PETN, also known as pentaerythritol.
Stitched into his underwear, it was not spotted by the traditional metal detectors. It failed to go off properly, but sparked an on-board fire that was swiftly put out when passengers intervened.
As the country searched for answers to how the attack was only narrowly avoided, agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were Monday in Ghana investigating Abdulmutallab’s stay in the country.
“The investigation will allow the FBI agents to gather more information on the suspect’s stay in Ghana,” Deputy Information Minister James Agyenin-Boateng told AFP.
He did not say when the FBI team arrived in Ghana and how long the agents plan to stay in the west African country.
It is Ghana’s first known official comment on the allegations by Nigerian authorities that Abdulmutallab arrived in Lagos on December 24 on a Virgin Nigeria flight from Ghana.
Obama also revealed that Abdulmutallab had spent time in Yemen where he was allegedly in contact with the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The US House Intelligence Committee said Monday that it would hold a January 13 hearing on the botched attack and lawmakers expected to receive the preliminary findings of the reviews ordered by Obama.
The United States has meanwhile closed its embassy in Yemen, fearing an attack, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it would only reopen when it was believed safe.
“We review our security conditions constantly and we’ll make a decision on reopening the embassy when the conditions permit,” the top US diplomat said.