Barack Obama pledges to take fight to terrorists behind jet bomb plot

President orders new measures amid inquest over huge lapse of security

Barack Obama yesterday said the US would "not rest" until it has called to account those behind the attempted suicide bombing of a transatlantic flight over Detroit on Christmas Day.

The president said he has ordered new security measures and a review of the failings that allowed a Nigerian Muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to carry explosives onto a US-bound flight.

But Obama added that America would do more than put up additional defences; he had directed his national security officials to "keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country".

"Those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defences," he said. "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and to defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland."

The president, speaking publicly for the first time since the failed attack, said he had ordered enhanced security screening and added more federal air marshalls to international flights. He also ordered a review of the watch list of known and suspected terrorists to review whether it is effective and, more specifically, how it was that Abdulmutallab could board a flight to Detroit even though his own father had reported him to American consular officials in Nigeria as a security risk.

Obama's comments came after Al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula said it was behind the failed bombing. A statement posted on a website said the attack was in retaliation for recent raids on its militants in Yemen which it said had been carried out by US jets and had caused civilian deaths.

"We tell the American people that since you support the leaders who kill our women and children ... we have come to slaughter you (and) will strike you with no previous (warning); our vengeance is near," the statement said.

According to ABC news Abdulmutallab has told his interrogators he had been one of many and there were more "just like him" being trained to attack the west.

Last night ABC released a picture of Abdulmutallab's burned underwear, said to contain traces of explosives.

British officials expressed fears that a number of Britons had travelled to Yemen to train at secret terrorist camps. Senior UK counter-terrorism officials said MI5 was aware of several nationals and British residents who had trained in Yemen's "ungoverned spaces" in the past year.

The US homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, yesterday sought to head off accusations of complacency by acknowledging that security and intelligence failures allowed Abdulmutallab to come close to blowing up the Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit.

She conceded that despite billions of dollars spent on aviation security over the past decade, the US system failed to respond to alerts about Abdulmutallab, and failed to stop him getting any further when airport security in Nigeria and Amsterdam did not detect his bomb.

"Our system did not work in this instance," she told reporters. "No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way." On Sunday, Napolitano had come in for heavy criticism after saying that "the [US side of the] system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days".

Republican members of Congress questioned why US officials had failed to follow up warnings from Abdulmutallab's father, Umaru Mutallab, that his son was potentially dangerous.

Peter King, the top Republican on the House of Representatives homeland security committee, said airport security "failed in every respect".

Susan Collins, another senior Republican, demanded to know why the attempted bomber's US visa was not revoked after the warning from his father.

After Mutallab, a banker and former cabinet minister, alerted the US embassy in Abuja about his son's views, Abdulmutallab's file was marked for attention should he apply for another visa. But consular officials did not revoke the two-year multiple entry visa issued at the US embassy in London in 2008. He was added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide) watch list, which contains 550,000 names. But he was not put on the much shorter no-fly list.

Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempting to blow up an airliner, a crime with a maximum of 20 years in prison, but is likely to face additional charges. A court hearing on a request to obtain DNA samples from Abdulmutallab was postponed until 8 January. No reason was given.

He is now in prison after being released from a hospital near Detroit after treatment for burns to his leg which he suffered when part of his bomb ignited.

Although some security measures have been strengthened, the authorities have relaxed orders to prevent passengers from having blankets or personal possessions on their laps during the last hour of a flight to the US, and to disable electronic maps that tracked the flight path on in-seat television screens; these, and some other restrictions, will now be a matter for individual airlines to decide.


Chris McGreal in Washington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Al-Qaida links to Christmas Day plane bomb plot investigated
Nigerian's British links investigated as attention turns to al-Qaida's Yemen stronghold

Peter Walker and Chris McGreal

28, Dec, 2009 @12:17 AM

Barack Obama says al-Qaida behind botched Christmas Day bomb plot
US president reveals would-be suicide bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, trained by terror group affiliate in Yemen

David Batty and agencies

02, Jan, 2010 @12:55 PM

Article image
Yemen terror camps attract 'stream of Britons'
Fears raised that country is becoming stronghold for new generation of al-Qaida-inspired fighters

Matthew Taylor, Richard Norton-Taylor and Sandra Laville

28, Dec, 2009 @9:45 PM

Barack Obama begins Detroit plane bomb plot security review
Airports round the world are struggling to implement security measures demanded by the US

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

04, Jan, 2010 @7:29 PM

Article image
US intelligence on plane bomb suspect was 'vague but available'

Barack Obama due to receive an initial report into the failures of agencies in the foiled Christmas attack

Ewen MacAskill in Washington, and Allegra Stratton

31, Dec, 2009 @10:58 PM

Article image
Agent in underwear bomb plot 'was British'

Claims that British passport holder played central role in mission that led to death of top al-Qaida operative in Yemen

Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Richard Norton-Taylor

10, May, 2012 @11:04 PM

Article image
US says aviation security system failed in Flight 253 case
White House orders investigation into watchlists and screening of air passengers after Flight 253 attack

Chris McGreal in Washington, David Batty, Peter Walker and agencies

28, Dec, 2009 @11:23 AM

Article image
Obama condemns intelligence failings over Abdulmutallab
Dutch government says all passengers to US will have to go through full body scanners once they have been installed at Schiphol airport

Chris McGreal in Washington and Mark Tran

30, Dec, 2009 @10:14 AM

Article image
Al-Qaida airline bomb plot thwarted by CIA

Plan hatched by Yemen affiliate of al-Qaida involved more sophisticated version of 2009 underwear bomb

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

07, May, 2012 @11:26 PM

US embassy cables: Algerians take lead in regional fight against al-Qaida
Cable sent 25/10/2009

06, Dec, 2010 @9:30 PM