Friday, December 25, 2009

US plane incident was 'attempted act of terrorism'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - – A passenger aboard a trans-Atlantic flight attempted to ignite an explosive as the plane was landing in Detroit in an incident US officials called an attempted terrorist attack.

President Barack Obama was informed of the incident and ordered increased security for air travel, the White House said.

The incident was "an attempted act of terrorism," a senior US official told AFP.

The incident unfolded around noon local time (1700 GMT) on Friday aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, enroute from Amsterdam to the US city of Detroit.

The passenger "was immediately subdued and Delta is cooperating with authorities," a spokeswoman for Northwest's parent company Delta, Susan Elliott, told AFP.

The passenger was a 23-year-old Nigerian who "definitely has terror connections," US Representative Peter King told Fox News.

King said the man attempted to light a "fairly sophisticated device" aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was carrying 278 passengers and arriving from Amsterdam.

"This could have been catastrophic," said King, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

Obama discussed the incident in a secure conference call with his Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor John Brennan, and National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough, the White House said.

Obama "instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," the White House said.

"The president is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates," the statement read.

Sandra Berchtold, an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit, told AFP the incident was under investigation and US media reported that the passenger had told investigators he was affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

CNN and other broadcast outlets, citing a federal bulletin, said the man told investigators he had acquired the explosive device in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used.

The incident drew comparisons with the case of the "shoebomber" Richard Reid, who attempted to bomb a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 by igniting explosives he smuggled aboard in his shoes.

In the Netherlands, anti-terrorism officials said the suspect US agents detained in Detroit was not a Dutch national or resident.

The man arrived at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport on a connecting flight, said Judith Sluiter, the spokeswoman for the Netherlands' anti-terrorism coordinator.

Sluiter however was unable to specify from which country the man had arrived to the airport but King told Fox News the man "boarded the plane in Nigeria and then connected on in Amsterdam to Detroit."

The US Transportation Security Administration said they were rescreening the plane after it landed in Detroit.

"All passengers deplaned and out of an abundance of caution the plane was moved to a remote area where the plane and all the baggage are currently being rescreened," the agency said in a statement.

"A passenger is in custody and passengers are currently being interviewed," the statement added.

Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, has not changed his schedule. "The president is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates," the White House said.

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