By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network
Quick action by passengers resulted in the successful thwarting of the lighting of an incendiary device on a Northwest Airlines Flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is thanking the passengers who stepped in and possibly averted tragedy in the skies over Michigan.
"I am grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results," Napolitano said.
"The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place for all domestic and international flights to ensure the continued safety of the traveling public. We are also working closely with federal, state and local law enforcement on additional security measures, as well as our international partners on enhanced security at airports and on flights."
But the incident - and the Homeland Security Department's reaction - raise even more questions about the ability to detect new forms of terrorism directed toward airplanes. Questions are also being raised about how the increased security measures really better protect - while further inconveniencing - the flying public.
The suspect is identified as University of College of London engineering student and Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old was burned in the incident and was taken to a hospital following his arrest on the plane after it landed. Police in England are assisting in the investigation and have been searching the last place he was believed to have lived there.
Abdulmutallab reportedly hid the chemicals that he was allegedly going to use to set off the device in a syringe. He allegedly procured them in Yemen - perhaps under orders from al Qaeda.
Earlier it was reported that Abdulmutallab was known to counter-terrorism officials. But it was later reported that - while his name had surfaced in connection with some investigation or investigations - he was not on any "watch list" that would have prompted additional airport screening. Nor was he on a "no-fly" list.
While there are some new answers today about yesterday's incident, there are still more questions.
Do airport security personnel have the capability to detect incendiary devices and - if they do - is it feasable or even possible to check every person and every piece of carried on baggage for them?
Are there disparities between security checks in the United States and those at other airports? How does the increased security we're seeing today in the United States deter this kind of a terrorist attempt on other international flights destined here?
Is it time to follow the Israeli lead of profiling passengers? Paltalk News Network security analyst Gary Moskowitz has long argued that random checks of passengers only serves as window dressing. That the United States should follow the Israeli lead of profiling passengers - so that those who are identified as more likely to be terrorists go through special additional screening.
What actual ties does Abdulmutallab have to al Qaeda? He reportedly has claimed that he is associated with the terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Was this a dry-run for another series of coordinated attacks like those? Or was this a singular attempt that - like that of the shoe bomber - failed and may never be attempted again?
Napolitano urged Americans to not cancel nor change their holiday travel plans, but said that, "as always," they should be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials.
"Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place," she said. "These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in."
There were longer lines than usual at Detroit Metro Airport - the destination of NW 253 (the plane has Delta markings because Northwest Airlines has been purchased by Delta). Secondary screenings were also reported by domestic airline passengers in other U.S. airports today.