Foiled Bombing Is Similar To Past Al-Qaida Attempts

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

A group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing on Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. The group, based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, is an affiliate of al-Qaida that has been growing in the past couple of years.

Its members claimed responsibility for the attack on a number of jihadi Web sites Monday. Among other things, they said they gave explosives to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect now in FBI custody, and trained him in how to use them. The group crowed about the fact that Abdulmutallab was able to get past all the advanced technology and security at international airports and bring an explosive on the trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, had strong words about the failed attack. "We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," he told reporters Monday. "This was a serious reminder of the dangers we face. The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your families safe and secure during this busy holiday season."

The president has had to deflect criticism over his administration's handling of the incident. For days, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano maintained that airport security had worked because the attempted bombing wasn't successful. She backtracked on that statement Monday.

The fact that the attack didn't go off as planned seems to have more to do with luck than skill.

Officials say Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian suspect, managed to get a high explosive on the plane and ignite the material — but it only caught fire and didn't explode. Abdulmutallab ended up setting fire to himself and to the airplane's cabin wall. Apparently the detonator on the device was faulty.

The investigation has been frustrating for authorities. It wasn't until late Monday that the Yemeni government was even able to confirm that Abdulmutallab had been in its country.

They say he was there under a student visa and studied Arabic from August to early December at a school in the city of San'a. Then on Tuesday, the Yemeni Information Ministry said it discovered that the young man was also in Yemen in 2004 to '05.

The FBI is still trying to work out who the suspect had contact with in the country.

That said, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that suggests al-Qaida was involved in this case. Prosecutors say Abdulmutallab told investigators that he got the explosive he brought onboard the plane from al-Qaida in Yemen. He also allegedly told investigators that the group trained him on how to use it.

The explosive used on the Northwest flight was a material called pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN. It is a favored al-Qaida explosive and is not easily obtainable. Richard Reid, the al-Qaida shoe bomber, used the same explosive when he tried to blow up a plane in 2001 but was unable to light the fuse on his shoe.

Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to use a chemical detonator. Officials say he had the PETN sewn into the crotch of his underwear and then used a syringe to inject a chemical detonator into it. It didn't work properly, so he managed to set himself on fire instead.

In September, a similar device was used in an assassination attempt in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi militant who had been hiding in Yemen pretended he wanted to turn himself in to the assistant minister of Interior for Security Affairs, but then tried to blow up himself and the minister with a PETN device.

Authorities have determined that al-Qaida was involved in both the shoe bomber attack and the assassination attempt. The patterns are so similar to what happened with Flight 253 that there is good reason to believe, even without the claim of responsibility, that al-Qaida might have a hand in this case as well.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.