WASHINGTON - A 23-year-old Nigerian man was charged in a federal criminal complaint today with attempting to destroy a Northwest Airlines aircraft on its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Christmas Day, and with placing a destructive device on the aircraft.
Authorities allege he used a high explosive known as PETN and it caused the wall of the aircraft and the suspect's pants to catch fire. When one flight attendant asked him afterwards what he had in his pocket, the passenger calmly replied: "explosive device."
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a Nigerian national, boarded Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 24, 2009 and had a device attached to his body.
A department of justice press release and a copy of the indictment were obtained by Digital Journal. They contain allegations that the Nigerian man intended to bring the aircraft down and that he spent 20 minutes in the toilet prior to returning to his seat just before setting off the device.
"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 landed shortly thereafter, and he was taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol officers," according to a press release sent by email and the charging document sworn on Saturday.
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, said the indictment. A passenger obtained the syringe and shook it to stop it smoking, said the affidavit.
“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 after the plane landed. He will make his initial court appearance later today.
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.
Upon returning 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, the affidavit said.
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.”
These prosecutions are being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, with assistance from the Counter-terrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
The investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Customs and Border Protection, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
"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," said Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary.
"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 flight."
Meanwhile, the University College of London said a person by the same name was a student at the university in the U.K. between 2005 and 2008. He was a mechanical engineering student.
The university said it does not have evidence that the person charged and the person who went to mechanical engineering school were one and the same person, according to chief spokesperson Dominique Fourniol.
"UCL can confirm that a student by the name of 'Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab' was enrolled on a Mechanical Engineering course at the institution between September 2005 and June 2008. However, it must be stressed that the university has no evidence that this is the same person currently being referred to in the media," Fourniol stated in an email sent earlier to Digital Journal.