- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has charged the alleged Christmas Day terrorist with attempting to destroy an airplane.

The Justice Department says 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a device containing a high explosive attached to his body. The government says that as the flight neared Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Friday, Abdulmutallab set off the device, but it sparked a fire instead of an explosion.

A Homeland Security official has confirmed to The Washington Times that the explosive was PETN, a peroxide-based bomb.

Abdulmutallab was subdued by the crew on board Flight 253 from Amsterdam after he attempted to ignite the liquid and powder device that was taped to his leg.

The government alleges that Abdulmutallab told passengers that his stomach was upset, then pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises.

There were 278 passengers aboard the plane that landed safely; Abdulmutallab, however, reportedly suffered from third-degree burns.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said Friday passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights.

The terrorist threat level has not been raised and stands at orange, or high.

“As always, we encourage the traveling public to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials,” Ms. Kuban said.

The suspect was not listed on the no-fly list, but his name was reportedly listed in an unnamed government database. “This could have been catastrophic,” said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee to Fox News on Friday.

“My understanding is that the government did have a file on him,” said Mr. King, who said Congress should investigate why the suspect was not on the no-fly list.

Mr. King said President Barack Obama, who spent the Christmas holiday with his family in Hawaii, is taking a “strong personal interest” to ensure that no other attacks are being planned as a widespread terrorist plot.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said the incident raises questions as to how the suspect was able to board the flight with the device.

“Eight years after Richard Reid attempted to blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in his shoe, …[Friday’s] incident is a disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert,” Ms. Collins said.

Based in part on wire reports.

• Audrey Hudson can be reached at ahudson@washingtontimes.com.

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