A Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight bound from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day was indicted yesterday on charges including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to destroy the plane by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive concealed in his underwear, authorities say.
The failed attack caused popping sounds and flames that passengers and crew rushed to extinguish.
The bomb was designed to detonate "at a time of his choosing," the grand jury's indictment said.
There is no specific mention of terrorism in the seven-page indictment. But trying to use a weapon of mass destruction is a terrorism charge, US Attorney Barbara McQuade said.
President Barack Obama considers the incident an attempted strike against the United States by an affiliate of al-Qa'ida.
US investigators have said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qa'ida operatives in Yemen. His father warned the US Embassy in Nigeria that his son had drifted into extremism in Yemen, but that threat was never fully digested by the US security apparatus.
Since the failed attack, airlines and the Transportation Security Administration have boosted security in airports in the US and around the world. Obama has said the government had information that could have stopped Abdulmutallab, but intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots.
The Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported last night that US border security officials learned of Abdulmutallab's alleged extremist links while he was en route to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed.
A federal database noted State Department concern that Abdulmutallab may have been involved with extremism in Yemen and officials decided to interview him when he arrived in the US, a senior law enforcement official who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing told the Times.
The newspaper said it is not clear whether the intelligence was strong enough for Dutch officials to stop Abdulmutallab from flying had they learned of it before the flight's departure, the newspaper reported.
The Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment on the Times report Wednesday night.
Abdulmutallab faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a bomb on the plane. He is being held at a federal prison in Michigan, and a message seeking comment was left yesterday with his lawyers, Miriam Siefer and Leroy Soles.
"This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool — military or judicial — available to our government."
Abdulmutallab will make his first appearance in federal court on Friday for an arraignment and a hearing to determine if he stays in custody.
"Short of actual murder, these are some of the most serious charges in the criminal code," said Lloyd Meyer, a former terrorism prosecutor at US war crimes tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay prison. "These charges are tailored to the facts of what happened over the sky in Detroit."