Dutch to use full body scanners for US flights

Associated Press
Wednesday 30 December 2009 14:39

The Netherlands will immediately begin using full body scanners for flights heading to the United States to prevent future terrorist attacks like the foiled Christmas Day attempt.

Officials say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, managed to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport carrying explosives but failed to successfully detonate them. The plane was carrying over 300 people.

In a preliminary report today, the Dutch government said the plan to blow up the Detroit-bound aircraft was professional but called its execution "amateurish."

"It is not exaggerating to say the world has escaped a disaster," Interior Minister Guusje Ter Horst told a news conference.

Ter Horst said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of PETN, in the aircraft toilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals. She said the explosives appeared to have been professionally prepared and had been given to Abdulmutallab, but did not elaborate.

"If you want to detonate it, you have to do that another way than he did. That is why we talk about amateurism," she said.

Abdulmutallab arrived in Amsterdam on Friday from Lagos, Nigeria. After a stopover of less than three hours, he passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metal detector.

Abdulmutallab was carrying a valid Nigerian passport and had a valid US visa, the Dutch said.

"No suspicious matters which would give reason to classify the person involved as a high-risk passenger were identified during the security check," Ter Horst said.

Amsterdam's Schiphol has 15 body scanners, but their use has been limited because of privacy objections that they display the contours of the passenger's body. Neither the European Union nor the US have approved the routine use of the scanners.

New software, however, eliminates that problem by projecting a stylized image onto a computer screen, highlighting the area of the body where objects are concealed in pockets or under the clothing and alerting security guards.

Two scanners have been experimentally using that software since late November and the Dutch said those will be put into use immediately. All scanners will be upgraded within three weeks so they can be used on flights to the United States.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama demanded a preliminary report by Thursday from US security authorities on what went wrong. Obama said the intelligence community should have been able to piece together information that would have raised "red flags" and possibly prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding the airliner.

"There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security," Obama told reporters in Hawaii, calling the intelligence shortcomings "totally unacceptable."

"There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have — and should have — been pieced together," he said.

"Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged," Obama said. "The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America."

Abdulmutallab had been placed in one expansive database, but he never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of US counterterrorist screeners, despite his father's warnings to US Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's US visa being revoked.

Law enforcement officials believe the suspect tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the high explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive. It set off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation.

Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy an aircraft, is being held at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

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