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FBI probes attempted 'terror attack'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 26 December 2009

A 23-year-old Nigerian man is being questioned by the FBI in the United States, after what the White House is calling a terror attempt to explode a bomb on a Christmas day transatlantic flight. Jane Deith reports.


The man, named as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, was studying at a university in London and allegedly has links to al-Qaida.

University College London has confirmed that a student of this name was enrolled on a mechanical engineering course at the institution between September 2005 and June 2008.

British police were searching premises in central London today in connection with the incident. The authorities are trying to establish details about his activities while in the country, a British counter-terrorism source said.

Mr Abdulmutallab was thought to have got on a plane in Lagos and to have changed planes and got onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253 at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

The plane left Amsterdam with 278 passengers on board. It was not until the plane was approaching its destination, Detroit, when the man tried to ignite the device or mixture, US officials said.

The suspect, who suffered extensive burns, was overpowered by passengers and crew on the flight. The passengers, two of whom suffered minor injuries, disembarked safely from the Delta Airlines plane. "We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism," a White House official said.

European airports meanwhile tightened security checks on US-bound flights in response to the failed attack. Dutch counter-terrorism authorities said they were trying to figure out where the suspect had come from, how he had been screened and how he had managed to board the flight. "He did not go through passport control," a Dutch military police spokesman said.

Representative Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives homeland security committee, said the explosive device was "fairly sophisticated".

The Nigerian government has ordered security agencies to investigate the incident and said it would cooperate fully with the American authorities.

"Any passenger, including crew members, on any flight is subject to the same security screening," a spokesman for Nigeria's Federal Airport Authority said.

"This incident shows once again that vigilance is necessary at all times in the fight against terror," European Commission vice-president Jacques Barrot said in Brussels.

Once on the ground, the aircraft was moved to a remote area at Detroit's airport where all baggage was being rescreened, the Transportation Security Administration said.

The attempted terror attack appeared similar to one eight years ago when a British-born man, Richard Reid, tried but failed to blow up a transatlantic jumbo jet by lighting explosives stuffed into his shoes. Reid, a follower of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, is serving a life sentence in a US prison.

The incident is the latest in a string of terrorism-related plots in the United States over the past few months.

Al-Qaida militants carried out the 11 September attacks in the United States in which three passenger planes were hijacked.

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