Northwest Bomber was Carrying a High Explosive but Failed Detonator Saved Flight
December 27, 2009
(ChattahBox) - As Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was charged Saturday with the willful attempt to destroy an aircraft, bomb experts concur that there was more than enough explosive to bring down Northwest flight 253, which had nearly 300 people aboard, had the detonator not failed. Preliminary FBI analysis shows the device that Abdulmutallab smuggled through security attached to his body, contained 80 grams of PETN, a high explosive. Fortunately the make-shift detonator failed to engage properly.
Speculation that al Qaeda might have played a hand in arming Abdulmutallab seems to have also been confirmed. Authorities say the suspect spent months in Yemen being trained for the Christmas Day suicide mission, by al Qaeda leaders in Yemen who also built the bomb for him.
While the detonator failing may have saved the plane or at least bought it time, Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director seated in the same row as Mr. Abdulmutallab but on the other side of the aircraft, was a true hero. He told CNN, that he saw what looked like an object on fire in the suspect’s lap and “freaked:”
“Without any hesitation, I just jumped over all the seats,” Mr. Schuringa said, in an account that other passengers confirmed.“I was thinking, Oh, he’s trying to blow up the plane. I was trying to search his body for any explosive. I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking, and I tried to put out the fire and when I did that I was also restraining the suspect.”
While we should all be thankful that a great tragedy was averted on Christmas day, the impact of what occurred will be felt by travelers in weeks and perhaps months to come. While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wouldn’t say exactly what it was doing differently yet, extra pat-downs before boarding, no getting up for the last hour of a U.S. flight, and no access to carry-on baggage or any items on passengers laps during that final hour. are perhaps just some of the immediate measures in place. Because of the nature of how Abdulmutallab got the device through security strapped to his body, calls for expensive and intrusive full body scan equipment to be outfitted in all international airports are likely to be stepped up.
While tighter screening is always ratcheted up after these security breaches there always seem to be lapses in the passport screening of these bombers. Four weeks ago Abdulmutallab’s father told the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, that he was concerned about his son’s religious beliefs. This information was passed on to U.S. intelligence officials but he still ended up on a plane heading to the U.S. The alleged bomber was also on a separate U.S. terror database, but his name was absent from ‘no-fly’ lists.