— ROMULUS, Mich. - A Nigerian man tried to light a powder aboard a commercial jetliner before it landed Friday in Detroit in what senior U.S. officials called an attempted act of terrorism.
Flight 253 with 278 passengers aboard was 20 minutes from the airport when it sounded like a firecracker had exploded, witnesses said. Passengers saw the attempted attack, and one of them jumped on the man and subdued him, an airline official told NBC News.
Stricter security measures were imposed on airline travel, but those were not specified.
The man had “some kind of incendiary device he tried to ignite” in a bag strapped to his body, U.S. officials told NBC News. Other officials told NBC station WDIV-TV of Detroit that the device was a mixture of powder and liquid, which failed to ignite when the passenger tried to detonate it during the plane’s descent into Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
Federal officials identified the man as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, of Nigeria, who was traveling one way, without a return ticket. Dawn Griffith, who was waiting for her husband on the plane, said she saw the man being carted away on a gurney or bed, with his bandaged hands handcuffed to the railing.
The man was being treated at the burn unit of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, officials said.
In terrorism files?
On Rep. Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who was briefed on the incident, said Abdulmutallab was known in federal counterterrorism files and may have been on the government’s list of suspicious passengers banned from flying in the United States.
King said the incident raised troubling questions about airline security. “It must be looked into” how Abdulmutallab was able to sneak a “somewhat sophisticated device” on board, he said.
Abdulmutallab told investigators that he wanted to set off a bomb over the United States, counterterrorism officials said.
A counterterrorism official said Abdulmutallab, who was subdued by the crew of Northwest Air Lines Flight 253 from Amsterdam, left Lagos, Nigeria, on Thursday and boarded the flight in Amsterdam on Friday.
The timing of the attempted attack could be significant. It was eight years ago this week that a similar attempted attack was launched by a British member of al-Qaida who tried to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami by igniting explosives in his shoes. And the attempted attack comes on the same day that the Taliban released a video of a
U.S. soldier it is holding captive in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida was responsible for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
News organizations, including msnbc.com, initially reported that the government had raised the terrorism alert for flights after the incident. Those reports were inaccurate; the flight alert had been at orange before the incident.
A pop, and then smoke
There was nothing out of the ordinary until Flight 253, an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers, was on final approach to Detroit. Although the jet bore the insignia of Delta Airlines, it was operated by Northwest.
Then came the disturbance in the passenger cabin, and that is when the pilot declared an emergency, said Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, in an e-mail message.
"It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase," said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands told The Associated Press. "First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke."
At least one passenger acted heroically.
The plane landed at 11:51 a.m. ET. The Transportation Security Administration reported that the plane was taken to a remote area of the Detroit airport and that all passengers left the plane and were rescreened, along with all the luggage on the flight. In addition, all passengers were interviewed, a TSA statement said, before they were allowed to go on their way.
President Barack Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, was informed of the incident Friday morning by his National Security Council staff, said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the White House.
An interagency meeting of senior intelligence, law enforcement and security was convened out of Washington to discuss the incident and possible measures to ensure that there no similar attacks, Burton said. Officials would not discuss the security measures, but they said passengers across the country should expect some delays Friday night.
U.S. counterterrorism officials are particularly concerned in light of the 2006 London airline plot, in which British and Pakistani nationals conspired to carry out multiple suicide bombings on board trans-Atlantic flights.
In addition, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and his cousin Ramzi Yousef were accused of plotting in 1995 to take down multiple airliners over the Pacific Ocean using explosive devices hidden in airliner lavatories.