Breaking: Attempted terrorist attack on int’l Northwest flight? Update: Al Qaeda link? Update: “Significant terrorist connections”?

posted at 4:21 pm on December 25, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

This just popped up on the news here in the Twin Cities, and the boss has it, too:

Federal officials and police are interviewing a man, believed to be Nigerian, who allegedly was trying to “explode” a powdery substance aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, injuring himself and two other passengers, law enforcement officials said.

Northwest Airlines flight 253 landed safely in Detroit at 11:53 a.m. The man, whose flight started in Nigeria before stopping in Amsterdam, is in custody at the Detroit airport and being interviewed by authorities there. Investigators are trying to corroborate several statements he made to them and determine his mental stability.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Chana Elliott said that “as the plane was getting ready to land” in Detroit “a passenger caused a disturbance” by trying to ignite what was reported to be firecrackers. He was “subdued immediately.” Northwest is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta.

It is unclear how powerful the explosive could have been and what the man’s intentions were. Initial reports were that fireworks or firecrackers had gone off on the plane. The man suffered second-degree burns, which is consistent with a small fireworks device.

A couple of thoughts.  First, the danger must have been considered low after he was secured, or the flight would have been diverted to an East Coast airport rather than sent through to Detroit.  Second, it sounds as though the man succeeded in lighting something, but that it wasn’t powerful enough to do damage to the flight.

The big question will be how he got firecrackers or the “powdery substance” through two airport security checks.  I seem to recall that the TSA has warned about Nigeria’s airport security in the past, but presumably he would have to pass through some sort of security check in Amsterdam.

Update: Michelle says that MS-NBC is retracting the story, but ABC says they’ve confirmed at least an arrest with TSA:

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Sandra R. Berchtold from the Detroit office confirmed that the FBI was at the airport but would not comment further.

“All passengers have deplaned and out of an abundance of caution, the plane was moved to a remote area where the plane and all baggage are currently being rescreened,” the Transportation Security Administration, which handles aircraft and airplane safety, said in a statement. ” A passenger is in custody and passengers are being interviewed.”

If anything more breaks, I’ll update it after dinner with the family.

Update II: ABC has reworked the lead to their story to include the skepticism of the authorities of the suspect’s claim to affiliation with an extremist group.  He may just be a nut who smuggled fireworks on the plane, but still, that leaves the question of how he managed to do that.

Update (AP): A nut who thinks he’s in AQ — or a nut who actually is in AQ?

“We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism,” a White House official said…

One of the U.S. intelligence officials said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it. The passenger was being questioned Friday evening.

An intelligence source said the Nigerian passenger was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Mich., hospital. All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

One law enforcement source said the man claimed to have been instructed by al-Qaida to detonate the plane over U.S. soil.

Follow the link for details on how he was subdued. Flight 93 redux.

Update (AP): Peter King tells CNN that this guy is for real.

“He is a 23 year old Nigerian who is also – it’s been confirmed to me – while he was not on a no fly list, his name was on a list for having terrorist connections,” King said during an interview Christmas evening on CNN…

“His name was in a database indicating significant terrorist connections,” King said…

“There’s a real worry about terrorist activity in Nigeria, so much so that last year the American government gave body detection technology to Nigeria for their airports,” King said. “Their level of security, we felt was not comprable to others.”


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