FEARS that al-Qa'ida is planning a wave of suicide attacks with syringe bombs have been heightened after it emerged that a Somali man tried to board an aircraft last month carrying the same type of device as that used by the Detroit bomber.
Police in Somalia said the man was caught "red handed" in Mogadishu trying to take powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe on to an airliner bound for Dubai.
The suspect had 1kg of powder, more than 12 times as much as the Detroit bomber, though the exact composition of the chemicals is not yet known.
Although investigators have not established a link to al-Qa'ida, the Somali case is so similar to the method used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the failed Christmas Day bombing that security agencies are braced for the possibility of further attacks.
The Dutch government has said that, within three weeks, it would install scanners at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, where Abdulmutallab caught the plane to Detroit.
As investigators in the United States continued to question him, Somali police revealed details of the arrest of the unnamed Somali national who was held as he tried to board a Daallo Airlines flight on November 13.
Abdulahi Hassan Barise, a police spokesman, said: "We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qa'ida or other foreign organisations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed."
The suspect, who allegedly tried to bribe the security team that detained him, was carrying a white shampoo bottle with a black acid-like substance in it, and a clear plastic bag with a "light green chalky substance" and a syringe containing a green liquid. A security official said the powder "had the strong scent of ammonia". Samples were sent to London for testing.
If the case is linked to al-Qa'ida, it will be the third time it has tried to launch an attack using powdered explosives and a syringe. As well as the Detroit attack, a similar device was used in August in a failed assassination attempt on Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister, by an al-Qa'ida terrorist who had smuggled the device into Saudi Arabia from Yemen. He hid the device in his groin area and detonated it during a meeting with the prince, killing himself and injuring the prince.
Abdulmutallab has said he was trained in bomb-making by al-Qa'ida operatives in Yemen. Large parts of Somalia are controlled by an insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qa'ida.
Hundreds of extremists are known to have sailed from Somalia to Yemen, where many are thought to have had explosives training.
Dozens of Britons have also travelled to Yemen in recent months, where Britain's MI5 fears they have joined al-Qa'ida training camps. Abdulmutallab told his captors there were "many more like me" in Yemen waiting to attack.
Meanwhile, there was another major security alert in New York last night sparked by a van parked in Times Square. The van with tinted windows, no licence plates and a bogus law enforcement placard led the police to briefly evacuate the area and send in a bomb squad on the day before the area's New Year's Eve gathering.
No explosive devices were found inside the white van and the area was reopened to traffic after about two hours.
The van was spotted by patrol officers at around 11am yesterday, and counterterrorism and bomb squad crews responded. The area was blocked off and two high-rise buildings -- home to NASDAQ and publishing company Conde Nast -- were partially evacuated for a time. The NASDAQ said trading was unaffected.
The Times Square New Year's Eve celebration draws hundreds of thousands of revellers to the area. "Its (the van) presence in Times Square just before New Year's Eve causes us concern, and that's why we're taking extra precautions," said chief New York Police Department spokesman Paul J Browne.
The 1992 Dodge van was parked beneath some of the large billboards that ring the square. Clothing was discovered inside, along with a temporary registration. Police are looking for the van's owner.
People who work in the area said the van had been there at least two days. (© Daily Telegraph, London)