US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded today that the aviation security system failed when a man on a watchlist with a powerful explosive hidden on his body was allowed to board a fight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The Obama administration has ordered investigations into the two areas of aviation security – how travellers are placed on watch lists and how passengers are screened – as critics questioned how the 23-year-old Nigerian man charged in the airliner attack was allowed to board the December 25 flight.
A day after saying the system worked, Ms Napolitano backtracked, saying her words had been taken out of context.
“Our system did not work in this instance,” she said on NBC television’s Today show. “No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.”
The White House press office, travelling with President Barack Obama in Hawaii, said early today that the president would make a statement. White House spokesman Bill Burton did not elaborate.
Billions of dollars have been spent on aviation security since the September 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 that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of hiding on his body on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Abdulmutallab has been charged in federal court with 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.
A federal judge in Detroit was expected to decide today whether to grant a request by the government to obtain a DNA sample from Abdulmutallab.
His court-appointed lawyer, Detroit’s chief federal defender, Miriam Siefer, said Abdulmutallab would not be present at the hearing.
Harold Demuren, the head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, said Abdulmutallab paid cash on December 16 for the round-trip ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit via Amsterdam. He said Abdulmutallab’s ticket came from a KLM office in Accra, Ghana.
Mr Demuren said Abdulmutallab checked into his flight with only a small carryon bag.
Investigators are piecing together Abdulmutallab’s alleged brazen attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25. Law enforcement officials say he tucked a small bag holding his potentially deadly concoction of liquid and powder explosive material below his waist.
Abdulmutallab had been placed in a US 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 Abdulmutallab’s name on a UK watch list after he was refused a student visa in May.
Briatin's Home Secretary Alan Johnson added that police and security services are looking at whether Abdulmutallab was radicalised in Britain.
In a statement released Monday, Abdulmutallab’s family in Nigeria said that after his “disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad”, his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies two months ago. 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.”
The statement did not offer any specifics on where Abdulmutallab had been.