Body scanners blocked by US 'could have prevented attempted plane attack'

Abdulmutallab's explosives might have been spotted had agreement been reached, Dutch minister says

The US blocked Dutch attempts to install full-body scanners for passengers travelling to the US before the failed suicide bombing of a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day, the Dutch interior minister said today.

Authorities at Schipol airport in Amsterdam had wanted to introduce the devices to monitor US-bound flights, but the scanners were not installed because US authorities wanted them to be used on flights to all destinations, said Guusje Ter Horst

The disclosure could put further pressure on Barack Obama, who has come under criticism in the US after the security lapse that allowed a young Nigerian Islamist to board a US plane on Christmas day carrying explosives. He has been charged with trying to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight, bound for Detroit from Amsterdam.

Following the failed bomb attack, the US has now agreed to the body scanners for passengers to America, Ter Horst said. They will be ready in three weeks' time.

Normal metal detectors could not have spotted the explosives, and the use of full-body scanners would have helped prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from taking them on the aircraft, she said.

Full-body scanners, unlike the standard archway metal detectors, use radio waves to generate a picture of the body that can see through a person's clothing and spot hidden weapons or packages.

Speaking at a news conference at The Hague, Ter Horst said the attempted plane bombing had been prepared professionally but executed amateurishly.

"If the detonation had been done in a correct manner, then part of the plane would have exploded and a hole in the plane would have caused a great tragedy," she said.

A preliminary Dutch investigation said all security checks were correctly carried out in Amsterdam before the flight left, and US authorities cleared the passenger list that included Abdulmutallab.

Ter Horst said the Dutch authorities did not know that Abdulmutallab – who was travelling on a Nigerian passport – was on a US security list. Initial reports said he had been allowed on to the plane without a passport.

She said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of the military explosive PETN, in the aircraft toilet and had planned to detonate it using a syringe of chemicals.

"It is not exaggerating to say the world has escaped a disaster," Ter Horst added.

Meanwhile, officials in Somalia said a Somali tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month with powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion.

Abdulahi Hassan Barise, a police spokesman, said the suspect was arrested before the 13 November Daallo Airlines flight left. It was scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai.

Two international officials in Nairobi said the incident was similar to the attempted Detroit attack. US officials said they were aware of the incident and were investigating any possible links with the Detroit incident.

Barack Obama today described US intelligence failings as "totally unacceptable" after it emerged that agencies knew leaders of a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen had talked about "a Nigerian" being prepared for a terrorist attack.

The US president interrupted a holiday in Hawaii to speak bluntly about the lapses that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the flight to the US.

A senior official told the New York Times Obama had been briefed that the US had information that would have amounted to a clear warning if shared among agencies.

This included details on where Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were.

"When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable," the US president said.

The New York Times reported that although US agencies did not have the name of the 23-year-old Nigerian, they could have found it by looking at information about him that was already available.

"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."

Senior US officials told the Associated Press that the intelligence authorities were looking at conversations between Abdulmutallab and at least one al-Qaida member.

The unnamed officials said the conversations were vague or coded, but US intelligence believed that, in hindsight, they may have been referring to the attempted attack in Detroit.

Obama's homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, is due to present the president with an early report based on recommendations and summaries from across the government.


Mark Tran and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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