(FinalCall.com) – With an investigation underway, the United States would “do everything in our power to protect our country,” President Barack Obama vowed in a brief statement while on vacation in Hawaii following an alleged attempt to bring down an airliner in Detroit.
“This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland,” said Mr. Obama to the media Dec. 28. “Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.”
The president said enhanced security measures were in effect and the U.S. would “continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded Dec. 28 that the aviation security system failed when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national on a watchlist with a U.S. visa in his pocket and a powerful explosive allegedly hidden on his body, was allowed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Investigations into the two areas of aviation security–how travelers are placed on watch lists and how passengers are screened– are ongoing but critics questioned how the 23-year-old was allowed to board the Dec. 25 flight.
Billions of dollars have been spent on aviation security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when commercial airliners were hijacked and used as weapons. Much of that money has gone toward training and equipment that some security experts say could have detected the explosive device the young man is accused of hiding on his body on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The Vanguard newspaper, in Nigeria, joined other news outlets in reporting that Al-Qaeda “claimed the failed December 25 bombing of a U.S.-bound aircraft in a statement posted on an Islamist website” based on accounts from U.S. groups.
“The statement, which was accompanied by a picture of the suspected would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, boasted that the ‘Nigerian brother’ broke all security barriers for his operation, dispelling the ‘great myth’ of American intelligence,” The Vanguard said. “He used explosives technology developed by the Mujahedeen in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) ‘manufacturing department,’ ” the online publication said.
Mr. Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate the device as the plane approached Detroit. The device burst into flames instead, according to authorities, and he was subdued by passengers. The plane landed safely. Mr. Abdulmutallab was treated for burns and was released to a prison 50 miles outside of Detroit.
He had been placed in a U.S. database of people suspected of terrorist ties in November, but there was not enough information about his activity that would place him on a watch list that could have kept him from flying.
However, British officials placed Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name on a UK watch list after he was refused a student visa in May.
Officials said he came to the attention of U.S. intelligence in November when his father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, reported to the American Embassy in Nigeria about his son’s increasingly extremist religious views. In a Dec. 28 statement, the Nigerian family said that after the son’s “disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad,” his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies. The statement says the father then approached foreign security agencies for “their assistance to find and return him home.”
The family says: “It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day.”
Airline shares fell in morning trading today on fears that new security restrictions swiftly implemented following a botched attempt to blow up an airliner could curtail business travel on lucrative international routes.
Meanwhile, reports that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies were operating inside the country, the Nigerian Senate Dec. 27 asked the international community not to associate the “horrible conduct” with other Nigerians, according to a Nigerian newspaper.
“The spokesman of the Senate, Ayogu Eze, who said this in a statement, also said the Senate ‘condemns this strange act of terrorism from a Nigerian in very strong terms. We ask the world to treat him on his own merit and not associate this horrible conduct with law abiding Nigerians who are decent and respectable international citizens wherever they are,’ “ said the story.
A Facebook group called “We condemn Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Action: Nigerians are not terrorists” was created to condemn the act and 5,000 members joined the condemnation less than 72 hours after its creation, the newspaper added.
Mr. Abdulmutallab told U.S. officials who arrested him on the Detroit-bound airliner that he had sought extremist training at an Islamist hotbed in Yemen. His father previously said he thought his son traveled to Yemen before the attack.
A U.S. official in Washington said the father’s concerns were shared among those in the embassy, including liaison personnel from other agencies based there, such as the FBI. The alert was then relayed to Washington and again shared among agencies such as the State, Justice and Homeland Security departments, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Mr. Abdulmutallab attended a British preparatory school in Togo and graduated from University College London before apparently severing ties with his family.
(From Associated Press and Final Call staff reports.)