The US government has ordered airlines to check updated no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of changes in the wake of the failed Times Square bomb attack.
The alleged bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was able to board a jetliner on Monday night despite being on the list, because Emirates airlines did not look at an updated list that included his name.
A Homeland Security official said that until now, airlines have been required to check for updated lists every 24 hours.
When updates are made to the no-fly list, notifications to airlines instruct them to check the updated list. Airlines could now be fined if they don’t comply.
The no-fly list had failed to keep Shahzad off the plane.
Although under surveillance since mid-afternoon, he managed to elude investigators and head to the airport.
The events underscored the flaws in the nation’s aviation security system, which despite its technologies, lists and information sharing, often comes down to someone making a right call.
As federal agents closed in, Shahzad was aboard Emirates Flight 202. He reserved a ticket on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, paid cash on arrival and walked through security without being stopped.
By the time Customs and Border Protection officials, using a no-fly list updated earlier in the day, spotted Shahzad’s name on the passenger list and recognised him as the bombing suspect they were looking for, he was in his seat and the plane was preparing to leave the gate.
It did not. At the last minute, the pilot was notified, the jetliner’s door was opened and Shahzad was taken into custody.
After authorities pulled Shahzad off the plane, he admitted he was behind the crude Times Square car bomb, officials said. He also claimed to have been trained at a terror camp in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region of Waziristan, according to court documents. That raised increased concern that the bombing was an international terror plot.
Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen, was charged yesterday with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in Saturday evening’s failed Times Square bombing.
According to a federal complaint, he confessed to buying an SUV, rigging it with a homemade bomb and driving it into the busy area where he tried to detonate it.
Shahzad had been under constant watch at his Bridgeport, Connecticut, home since 3pm on Monday and US federal authorities had planned to arrest him there that evening, two people familiar with the investigation said.
Authorities believe he decided to flee after being spooked by news reports that investigators were seeking a Pakistani suspect in Connecticut, one of the people said.
Shahzad somehow lost the investigators who were trailing him, the two people said. The FBI and the New York Police Department declined to comment.
The Obama administration played down that Shahzad had made it aboard the plane. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would not talk about it, other than to say Customs officials prevented the plane from taking off. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the security system has fallback procedures in place for times like this, and they worked.
And Attorney General Eric Holder said he “was never in any fear that we were in danger of losing him”.