Obama Orders Review Of Watch List System

President Obama said Monday the government was doing everything in its power to keep the traveling public safe. Obama was making his first live public statement since a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama said today that the government is doing everything in its power to keep the traveling public safe. It was his first live public statement since a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama has been getting regular updates on the attempted terror attack since the day after he arrived in Hawaii. Today, he said the U.S. will not rest until all those involved are found and held accountable.

President BARACK OBAMA: This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could've killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.

HORSLEY: A 23-year-old Nigerian man has been charged with trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines jet, as it was making its way to Detroit from Amsterdam.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly smuggled liquid and powdered explosives onboard the plane, but was unable to detonate them before he was subdued by other passengers.

Today, the group calling itself al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for supplying Abdulmutallab with the explosives. Mr. Obama did not address that claim directly, but said he's ordered his national security team to stay on the offensive.

Pres. OBAMA: We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

HORSLEY: The administration has ordered additional security measures for air travel, including more federal marshals aboard international flights.

Republicans had criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's comment over the weekend that the system worked in the Christmas Day incident. By the time she appeared this morning on NBC's "Today Show," Napolitano was acknowledging the system had broken down.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): What I would say is that our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is underway.

HORSLEY: Abdulmutallab's name was included in a broad database of potential threats after his father raised concerns about his son's increasingly extremist religious views. But that alarm was not specific enough to put the young man on a much more restrictive no-fly list. Napolitano says officials are reviewing that process, along with security procedures at the airport.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: How did this individual get on the plane? Why wasn't the explosive material detected? What do we need to do to change, perhaps the rules that have been in place since 2006, for moving somebody from the generic tide database...

Unidentified Man: Right.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: ...to a more elevated status? All of that under review right now.

HORSLEY: Authorities are not offering a lot of detail about the extra security measures, saying they want to be unpredictable. But they do recommend travelers allow some extra time for check-in. With some 41 million Americans traveling by air this holiday season, Mr. Obama said people should be vigilant, but not frightened.

Pres. OBAMA: As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity and our deeply-held values.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, the top senators on the Homeland Security Committee are planning to hold hearings next month on the Northwest airliner attack.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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Bomb Suspect's Motives Baffle Family, Friends

Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a photo from the U.S. Marshal's Service. i i

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. U.S. Marshal's Service/AP hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. Marshal's Service/AP
Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a photo from the U.S. Marshal's Service.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

U.S. Marshal's Service/AP

The family of the 23-year-old Nigerian man held after a failed Christmas Day attempt to set off an explosive device on a plane en route to Detroit issued its first formal statement Monday, describing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's recent behavior as entirely out of character.

But his father had previously warned the Nigerian, Saudi Arabian and U.S. authorities about his son's increasingly radical views.

By all accounts, Abdulmutallab is a well-educated, devout Muslim from a wealthy northern Nigerian family.

He graduated last year from the prestigious University College London, where he studied mechanical engineering.

He had gone on to study in Dubai, then told his family he was going to Yemen. His father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, became concerned about two months ago, when his son abruptly broke off contact with the family.

The father alerted local and foreign security agencies, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili told a news conference that Abdulmutallab's family was shocked to hear his name linked to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest flight that took off from Amsterdam.

"The father — Alhaji Umaru Mutallab —- who is a responsible and respected Nigerian, has already expressed deep shock and regret over his son's action," Akunyili said. "We want to reiterate that Nigeria as a nation abhors all forms of terrorism. Nigerian security agencies are working hand in hand with international security agencies on this matter."

In its statement today, Abdulmutallab's family said that before cutting ties, the suspect had never displayed any behavior to give them concern. Mike Rimmer, his history teacher for three years at the exclusive British School of Lome in the west African nation of Togo, said he couldn't believe his ears when he heard the news.

"I was absolutely shocked," Rimmer said. "I was expecting great things from Umar. I certainly wasn't expecting this. He was a great lad. He was a model student — very keen, very enthusiastic."

Rimmer told the BBC that it hadn't occurred to him then, but perhaps there were early signs that he had missed.

"He was always very religious and some of the things he said were over the top," Rimmer recalled. "For example, in 2001 we had a number of class discussions about the Taliban. All the other Muslim kids in the class thought they were a bunch of nutters. But Umar spoke in their defense. I thought maybe he was playing devil's advocate, trying to keep the class discussion going."

Efemena Mokedi, a high school classmate of Abdulmutallab's, told the BBC he was astonished to hear about his friend, whom he described as "a very friendly person."

"You know, we played on the same basketball team growing up," Mokedi said. "He was a very devoted, religious person. He was an honest person. So the numbers do not add up."

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