Dec. 26, 2009 — -- The plot to blow up an American passenger jet over Detroit was organized and launched by al Qaeda leaders in Yemen who apparently sewed bomb materials into the suspect's underwear before sending him on his mission, federal authorities tell ABC News.
Investigators say the suspect had more than 80 grams of PETN, a compound related to nitro-glycerin used by the military. The so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, had only about 50 grams kin his failed attempt in 2001 to blow up a U.S.-bound jet. Yesterday's bomb failed because the detonator may have been too small or was not in "proper contact" with the explosive material, investigators told ABC News.
Investigators say the suspect, Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian student whose birthday was last Tuesday, has provided detailed information about his recruitment and training for what was supposed to be a Christmas Day suicide attack.
According to the authorities, Abdulmutallab says he made contact via the internet with a radical imam in Yemen who then connected him with al Qaeda leaders in a village north of the country's capital, Sanaa.
Authorities say they do not yet know if the imam was the same one who was in contact with Maj. Nidal Hasan prior to his alleged attack on soldiers at Fort Hood last month. American-born Anwar Awlaki has lived in Yemen since 2002 and is considered a major recruiter for al Qaeda by U.S. authorities. He survived a U.S.-backed air strike earlier this week.
The suspect in the Northwest Airlines attack told FBI agents he lived with the al Qaeda leader in Yemen for about a month and was not allowed to leave as he was trained in what to do and how to do it, authorities said.
At some point, according to the account, Abdulmutallab said he was joined by a Saudi citizen whom he described as an al Qaeda bomb maker.
Bomb Sewn Into Underwear
The device intended to blow up the Northwest flight was made at the location in Yemen, according to Abdulmutallab, and consisted of a six-inch packet of powder and a syringe with a liquid. Both were sewn into the student's underwear so they would be near his testicles and unlikely to be detected, he told agents.
Authorities say the combination of the liquid in the syringe with the powder created the flash bomb, which was extinguished by passengers and air crew.
Investigators are conducting tests to determine the exact nature of the powder and chemicals used.
Abdulmutallab suffered second-degree burns in his genital area, investigators told ABC News.
The al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen has increasingly taken on a lead role in coordinating major terror attacks as the U.S. has disrupted al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, according to American authorities.
Authorities say the suspected bomber was traveling on a visa issued by the State Department on June 16, 2008 and valid until June 12, 2010. Officials tell ABC News he was on a U.S. "terror watch list" but not on the "no fly" list, which would have prevented him from boarding the flight.
He had previously traveled to the U.S. on an 11-day trip to Houston in Aug. 2008.
Published reports in Nigeria said Abdulmutallab's father had contacted the U.S. embassy six months ago about concerns his son had become radicalized and could pose a threat to the U.S. One report said the father could not understand why his son was allowed to board a flight to the U.S. given his warning.