Detroit, MI – A 23-year-old Nigerian man who claimed to have ties to al-Qaida was charged Saturday with trying to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, as authorities around the world urgently sought to learn more about him.
The Justice Department charged that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a device containing a high explosive attached to his body. An affidavit with the indictment said that as Northwest Flight 253 descended toward Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Abdulmutallab set off the device — sparking a fire instead of an explosion.
According to the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, a preliminary analysis of the device showed it contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol.
The government alleged that Abdulmutallab told passengers that his stomach was upset, then pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises.
Abdulmutallab, who had a valid U.S. visa, was in a terrorism database but not on a no-fly list. He lived in a posh London neighborhood, but a law enforcement official said the suspect acknowledged he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, was briefed about developments in the attack. National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough was holed up in a secure hotel room in Hawaii to receive briefings, and other traveling presidential aides were kept shut away to monitor new information.
Abdulmutallab appeared on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, said a U.S. official who received a briefing. Containing some 550,000 names, the database includes people with known or suspected ties to a terrorist organization. However, it is not a list that would prohibit a person from boarding a U.S.-bound airplane.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Abdulmutallab was not on the no-fly list.
A search was conducted Saturday at an apartment building in a posh West London neighborhood where the suspect is said to have lived.
University College London issued a statement saying a student named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab studied mechanical engineering there between September 2005 and June 2008. But the college said it wasn’t certain the student was the same person who was on the plane.