Monday, December 28, 2009

News Talk Online December 28, 2009: Obama Assures Nation In Wake Of Terrorist Attempt On Northwest Flight

Latest update: 4:13 PM New York time.

President Obama assured the American people today that all is being done to protect the flying public against terrorist attacks.

His address to the nation follows the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Obama says he has directed that "immediate steps" be taken to assure the safety of the flying public - enhancing security of domestic and international flights.

The president also ordered a review of the watch list system - because questions have been raised about why the suspect in the attempt on the Northwest flight was on a watch list but not on a no-fly list.

It's still not known whether he was working aloine, but al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula is claiming responsibility for the attempted terrorist attack.

A Newport, Michigan passenger on the flight tells a Michigan news site that he saw suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab being escorted to the plane in Amsterdam by a "well dressed" man - circumventing passport control.

Whether the passenger's impressions are true or not - questions about Abdulmatallab's ties to organized terrorism are surfacing. One report, in the British newspaper The Sun, suggests that there is reason for concern.

The tabloid is reporting that Abdulmatallab has told FBI agents that 25 more people - British-born Muslims - are part of a Yemen-based terrorist network that's bent on bombing Western planes.

A court hearing to determine whether DNA can be taken from the suspect - originally scheduled for today - has been postponed.

The hearing will now be held on January 8. No reason for the delay was given.

Yesterday, there was another scare in the air. A passenger spending too much time in the bathroom on another Northwest Airlines flight from the Netherlands to Detroit resulted in an alert and the plane being greeted by law enforcement personnel after it landed at Detroit Metro Airport. This incident occurred just two days after a man attempted to destroy an Amsterdam to Detroit Northwest flight as it descended toward the same airport.

But the investigation revealed that the man was in the bathroom for a long period of time because he had become ill on the plane.

The incident raised alarms because it was the same flight that was targeted on Christmas Day.

"A passenger on today's Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit spent an unusually long time in the aircraft lavatory. Due to this unusual behavior, the airline notified TSA and the agency directed the flight to taxi to a remote area upon landing to be met by law enforcement and DHS," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban.

The passenger, a Nigerian national, was removed from the flight and interviewed by the FBI.

"Indications at this time are that the individual's behavior is due to legitimate illness, and no other suspicious behavior or materials have been found<" Kubin said.

In spite of the determination, Kubin said that "in an abundance of caution" the aircraft was fully screened,and all baggage was re-screened before the aircraft was permitted to , finally, taxi to the gate.

President Obama has ordered a review of airport screening in the wake of the Christmas Day attempted destruction of that plane by an incendiary device.

Congressional hearings will be held next month into safety and security surrounding air travel in the United States in the wake of a Christmas Day attempt to set off an incendiary device on a Northwest Airline flight.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is promising the hearings.

"The White House has reached out to me and I have been in touch with other appropriate authorities about the incident that occurred on Northwest-Delta Airlines flight #253 to Detroit," Rockefeller said.

"Any terrorist attempt on our citizens is extremely serious. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold hearings in January to look in to this incident and related security matters."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times of London is reporting that the suspect who allegedly tried to set off the incendiary device had been denied a visa to re-enter Britain.

Abdulmutallab, 23, a Nigerian national and the son of a prominent banker in that nation who had graduated from University College of London had applied to return to the UK to resume studies at a non-existent college leading to the denial.

Abultmutallab's father reportedly called the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to report his concerns about his son. But, apparently, that warning fell on deaf ears.

Abdulmutallab was charged in his hospital bed in Ann Arbor Michigan Saturday with attempting to destroy the flight.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 24 with a device attached to his body. As the flight was approaching Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Abdulmutallab set off the device, which resulted in a fire and what appears to have been an explosion. Abdulmutallab was then subdued and restrained by the passengers and flight crew. The airplane then safely landed shortly thereafter, and he was taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol officers.

A preliminary FBI analysis found that the device contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive. Further analysis is ongoing. In addition, FBI agents recovered what appear to be the remnants of the syringe from the vicinity of Abdulmutallab’s seat, believed to have been part of the device.

“This alleged attack on a U.S. airplane on Christmas Day shows that we must remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism at all times,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured. We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously, and we will use all measures available to our government to ensure that anyone responsible for this attempted attack is brought to justice

Abdulmutallab required medical treatment and was transported to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

Interviews of all of the passengers and crew of Flight 253 revealed that prior to the incident, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for approximately 20 minutes, according to the affidavit. After he returned to his seat, Abdulmutallab stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odor, and some observed Abdulmutallab’s pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire. Passengers and crew then subdued Abdulmutallab and used blankets and fire extinguishers to put out the flames. Passengers reported that Abdulmutallab was calm and lucid throughout. One flight attendant asked him what he had had in his pocket, and he replied “explosive device.”

A controversial Muslim civil rights group is calling for "swift justice" in the case.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Detroit Free Press that he was grateful the alleged bomber did not succeed in his attack.

“Swift justice for the alleged perpetrator is the best way to deter future attacks,” said Walid. “We also need to know why the warnings of the alleged bomber’s father were not acted on to possibly prevent this incident from occurring.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano thanked 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.

Abdulmutallab 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.

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?

CAIR - the Muslim group that is calling for "swift justice" - is also opposing passenger profiling.

“While everyone supports robust airline security measures, racial and religious profiling are in fact counterproductive and can lead to a climate of insecurity and fear,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

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.

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