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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Father alerted US about Nigerian plane bomb suspect

The father of a Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day had voiced concerns to US officials about his son.

The father, a top Nigerian banker, warned US authorities last month about 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's extreme views, say officials.

US sources confirm a file was opened, but say the information did not warrant placing the accused on a "no-fly" list.

Airports worldwide have beefed up security after the alleged attack.

Mr Abdulmutallab was formally charged by a US federal judge at a Michigan hospital where he is being treated for burns after allegedly trying to detonate a device.

'Sewn in underpants'

The detainee reportedly smiled as agents brought him in to the room in a wheelchair, dressed in a green hospital robe and with a blanket over his lap.

High explosives are believed to have been moulded to his body and sewn in to his underpants.

He was immediately overpowered by passengers and crew aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, minutes before it was due to land in Detroit from the Dutch capital Amsterdam.

The suspect was charged with placing a destructive device on the Airbus 330, which was carrying 289 passengers and crew, and attempting to destroy the jet.

His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, is a prominent banker well-connected in Nigeria's political world, the BBC's Caroline Duffield reports from Lagos.

In recent months Mr Mutallab is said to have become alarmed about the political views of his son, who is a former engineering student at University College London.

He approached the US embassy in Abuja in November to voice concerns about his son, according to American officials.

How the accused, who had a valid US travel visa, boarded a flight in Lagos to Amsterdam, despite being on a database listing individuals of concern to the authorities, is a key question, our correspondent says.

Anti-terrorist measures in Nigeria's airports are haphazard and corruption among police, customs and security officials is endemic, she adds.

Officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news agencies that Mr Abdulmutallab's name had been added to a security watch-list of more than half a million individuals, known as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide).

But there was apparently not enough information to include his name on the smaller Terrorist Screening Data Base, which includes a no-fly list.

It is understood that members of Mr Abdulmutallab's family are travelling to the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday to meet police and government officials.

'Nice and polite'

A preliminary FBI analysis has found that the device allegedly found attached to Mr Abdulmutallab contained the high explosive PETN, also known as pentaerythritol.

PETN was used in the device worn by British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who is serving a prison sentence for attempting to blow up a Paris-Miami airliner in Christmas week of 2001.

Mr Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate a device using a syringe, but it failed to go off.

The suspect has reportedly told investigators he had links to al-Qaeda and had received the explosives in Yemen for a suicide attack, after a month of training.

Mr Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for about 20 minutes before the incident, court documents say.

When he got back to his seat, he said he had an upset stomach and he pulled a blanket over himself, the affidavit continues.

"Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odour, and some observed Abdulmutallab's pants, leg and the wall of the airplane on fire," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Dutch tourist Jasper Schuringa, credited with tackling the suspect first and helping crew members to restrain him, is being hailed as a hero by fans on the internet.

The 32-year-old Dutch filmmaker has said in media interviews that when he heard a bang and smelled smoke he felt immediately it was a terrorist attack and did not hesitate to intervene.

Mr Schuringa added that the alleged bomber had not become aggressive after the alleged bomb failed to detonate.

"He was actually a normal person, he was very scared, he had a very frightened look, he wasn't resisting or anything," he told the BBC.

"I also spoke later to one of the Dutch people who was sitting next to him and they said he was a really nice and polite man. So he was someone you wouldn't expect to commit a crime like this."

Meanwhile, delays have been caused to transatlantic flights after airlines flying in to and around the US tightened security.

Measures include cutting down on hand baggage, extra frisking of passengers at passport control and allowing more time to board.

Source: BBC

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