Monday 21 January 2019

Passengers help to foil attempt to blow up jet

Would-be bomber badly burned after device fails to explode

ANDREW ALDERSON and TOM LEONARD

A would-be bomber who allegedly tried to blow up 278 passengers and 11 crew of an airliner over the United States was only foiled because his explosive device failed to detonate properly.

The former British university student was overpowered by another passenger as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam prepared to land at Detroit airport.

Last night, as a Dutch video director and producer was hailed as a hero for jumping on the suspect and subduing him, MI5, the British security service, and UK police chiefs, were investigating whether the Christmas Day bomb plot was hatched in Britain.

They were also seeking to establish whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, was radicalised during his three years as an engineering student at University College London, which he left in June 2008.

Members of the British security services and the counter-terrorism unit -- who are liaising with the FBI and other US crime-fighting agencies -- want to discover whether Abdulmutallab was a member of a previously unknown al-Qaeda network operating within the UK.

It is believed MI5 had begun examining files of all known al-Qaeda suspects and sympathisers in the UK to establish whether the plot had been missed by police.

Sources said they believed it was possible that Abdulmutallab may have been on the fringes of groups being monitored, but the full extent of any possible connections with al-Qaeda may not be known for some time.

Abdulmutallab allegedly told investigators that he had spent part of the last year in Yemen, an established al-Qaeda breeding ground.

He is alleged to have told investigators that it was while he was there that he obtained explosives for the attempted terrorist attack.

A senior British government source said: "MI5 is obviously looking at its files to see whether Abdulmutallab was known to them.

"They will want to know who his associates are and what role, if any, they played in this attack."

Police sealed off the street where the suspect lived in central London. A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: "We are carrying out inquiries in conjunction with the US authorities. Searches are being conducted as part of our ongoing inquiries."

Abdulmutallab is said to have attempted to ignite an explosive device strapped to his leg as the Airbus A330 was preparing its final descent to Detroit. According to US intelligence officials, the bomb was manufactured using a mixture of powder and liquid.

Abdulmutallab was set alight and suffered serious burns before being overpowered. Two passengers were also injured.

As Britain introduced tougher security measures for US-bound flights, it emerged that the suspect's father claimed to have alerted American and Nigerian authorities about his son's "activities", having become concerned by his behaviour.

Umaru Mutallab, 70, a prominent banker and former minister, was said to be travelling from his compound in the north of Nigeria, where Muslims form the majority of the population, to the capital, Abuja, to brief officials.

It is understood the suspect had been on an intelligence database of alleged terrorists in the United States, but he was not on the "no-fly list", meaning he was known to the authorities but not considered high risk.

Tighter security and carry-on bag limits were introduced yesterday at EU airports for US-bound passengers. Visitors to the US were told their hand-baggage allowance had been reduced to one item.

In addition, all passengers underwent a second personal and hand-luggage search before boarding.

The new guidelines were introduced at the request of the US government.

Some passengers flying to America were also told that they would not have in-flight entertainment. One passenger, Scott Cullen, 32, said: "Apparently the mapping system which you can use to monitor the plane's progress is the problem as the American government believes it could be used as a terrorist aid."

Abdulmutallab had flown on a KLM flight from Lagos to Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, before boarding the flight to the US. The suspect had been granted a visa to travel to the US in June 2008 -- valid until June 2010 -- after claiming that he planned to attend a religious ceremony.

©Telegraph

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