U.S. Charges Nigerian Man With Trying to Destroy Detroit-Bound Plane

Travel security clampdown as officials chase answers on failed 'terrorism' bid.

Dec. 26, 2009 — -- The U.S. government charged a Nigerian man Saturday with attempting to destroy a Detroit-bound plane and with placing a destructive device on board.

"Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously, and we will use all measures available to our government to ensure that anyone responsible for this attempted attack is brought to justice."

The alleged attack swung into motion Friday as Northwest Airlines flight 253 made its final approach into Detroit. A man identified as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to blow up the plane with 278 people onboard, injuring himself and two other passengers, according to White House and law enforcement officials.

Because of burns he suffered in the incident, Abdulmutallab was arraigned today at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman read Abdulmutallab the charges in a conference room at the hospital.

According to an affidavit filed in court today, "[I]ndividuals who were on the flight and who were able to see Abdulmutallab report that prior to the incident, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for approximately twenty minutes. Upon returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself.

"Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odor, and some observed Abdulmutallab's pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire," the affadavit added. "One flight attendant stated that she asked Abdulmutallab what he had had in his pocket, and he replied 'explosive device.' A passenger stated that he observed Abdulmutallab holding what appeared to be a partially melted syringe, which was smoking."

Terror Suspect Claims Al Qaeda Affiliation

Abdulmutallab, apparently from a well-to-do Nigerian family, was on a terror watch list, law enforcement officials told ABC News, but was not on the government's smaller "no-fly" list.

According to officials briefed on the case, he told authorities he was sent on a mission by al Qaeda operatives in Yemen where he obtained the device along with instructions as to when it should be used.

The FBI and U.S. Intelligence worked furiously to verify his story. The remains of the device were sent for analysis to an FBI explosives lab in Quantico, Va.

Overnight results suggested a highly explosive compound, and that the suspect had a viable bomb but did not execute it properly or it malfunctioned.

Airport Security Stepped Up After Terror Attempt

After the attempted attack, additional security measures were being put into place in airports across the country, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

"The American people should continue their planned holiday travel and, as always, be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a prepared statement.

"Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place," she added. "These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in."

The travel inconvenience comes on top of delays already in place after winter storms in the East and Midwest caused hundreds flights to be cancelled leading up to Christmas.

President Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, was receiving briefings on the terror plot, and convened a secure conference call early Saturday with John Brennan, his Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser, and Denis McDonough, acting chief of staff of the National Security Council.

"He received an update on the heightened air travel safety measures being taken to keep the American people safe and on the investigation," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "The president will continue to actively monitor the situation."

Heroic Passenger Put Out Flames

The suspect's journey began when he boarded a Northwest flight in Nigeria, landing in Amsterdam and traveling to Detroit.

When he allegedly tried to ignite powder between his legs with a chemical-filled syringe, the man was reportedly tackled by a heroic passenger, Dutch video director Jasper Schuringa.

Two passengers were injured and the suspect suffered second-degree burns, according to accounts.

Schuringa told CNN he saw the man's pants were open and he was holding a burning object between his legs.

"I pulled the object from him and tried to extinguish the fire with my hands and threw it away," Schuringa told CNN.

Schuringa grabbed the man, pulling him to the front of the plane, stripping off his clothes to check for other explosives, he said. An airline crew member helped handcuff him.

Wealthy Nigerian Banker Reportedly Warned U.S.

The suspect appeared to be a former student at University College London, though the school could not confirm he was the same person because of differing reports on the suspect's name.

"UCL has no record of an 'Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab' having been enrolled at the institution," the college said on its Web site. "UCL can confirm that a student by the name of 'Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab' was enrolled on a Mechanical Engineering course at the institution between September 2005 and June 2008. However, it must be stressed that the university has no evidence that this is the same person currently being referred to in the media."

Abdulmutallab was flying from Nigeria to the United States for a religious seminar, according to his entry visa, which was issued June 16, 2008 and was good until June 18, 2010.

He also traveled from London to Houston in August 2008 and stayed about 12 days before returning to London.

Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, 70, a former Nigerian bank chairman and government official, believed the suspect was his son, according to multiple media reports.

"I have been receiving telephone calls from all over the world about my child who has been arrested for an alleged attempt to bomb a plane," Mutallab told Agence France Press. "I am really disturbed. I would not want to say anything at the moment until I put myself together. I will address a press conference on the issue on Monday. I have been summoned by the Nigerian security and I am on my way to Abuja [in Nigeria] to answer the call."

In addition, a Nigerian newspaper, "This Day," reported the retired chairman of First Bank in Nigeria tried to warn U.S. officials months ago about his son's increasingly extreme religious views.

The father grew "uncomfortable with the boy's extreme religious views and had six months ago reported his activities to United States' Embassy, Abuja and Nigerian security agencies," "This Day" reported.

London Search of Posh Residence

In Britain, law enforcement officials searched what was thought to be the suspect's residence in Marylebone, an affluent area in central London.

Officials are focusing on computers, hard drives and other materials, British authorities said.

Authorities have found no bomb making materials and they do not expect to. British authorities do not believe any bomb making took place in London, nor is the suspect believed to have any independent ability to construct a device.

The forensics teams involved is focused on materials that might shed light on his social network in the United Kingdom and overseas, and any associates involved his radicalization, British sources told ABC News.

Whether the suspect's story about al Qaeda is true or not the government is deeply disturbed the he was able to circumvent airport security.

"The fact that this man could get some sort of explosive on the plane is a real cause for concern," said ABC News' security consultant Brad Garrett.

There are two critical areas of investigations, sources said -- trying to figure out what chemicals were used, and dissecting the suspect's recent travels.

U.S. authorities are trying to find out whether the suspect was acting alone or as part of a conspiracy.

"What you're going to want to do is timeline his last 24 to 48 hours," Garrett said. "Who has he talked to? Where has he been? Where did he get the substances?"

Airline Passengers in Europe Endure Body Searches

The plot resulted in airline passengers enduring body searches and new limits on hand luggage.

U.S.-bound travelers from Europe were undergoing body searches at Amsterdam's airport.

"The extra measures apply worldwide on all flights to the U.S. as of now and for an indefinite period," said Judith Sluiter, spokeswoman for the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism.

Flashbacks to the 'Shoe Bomber'

The incident brought back memories of Richard Reid, a self described member of al Qaeda, who tried to blow up a plane in flight during the Christmas holiday season, three months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Reid, a British citizen and al Qaeda operative, attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoe.

Passengers on the flight complained of smelling smoke shortly after the meal service, and Reid was found trying to light a match. He was subdued by other passengers on the plane and the flight was diverted to Boston's Logan International Airport.

Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in January 2003 and is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Florence, Colo. His actions, in part, are why travelers must take off their shoes as part of the airport security screening process.

"Eight years after Richard Reid attempted to blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in his shoe, today's incident, on Christmas Day, is a disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert," U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said in a statement Friday.

"The White House is calling this an attempted terrorist attack," Collins added. "It raises some serious questions, such as how was this person able to bring an explosive substance aboard a commercial airliner? And what is the Transportation Security Administration doing to address this type of threat?"

Congressional Hearing Next Month

Lawmakers in Congress pledged hearings on the security implications of the plot.

"The reported act of terrorism -- whether directly related to al Qaeda or not -- and the response to it will be the focus of an oversight hearing next month," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"The committee will get to the bottom of what did and did not happen with Mr. Abdul Mutallab and what security precautions need to take place in the future," he said in a prepared statement.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Mark Schone, Kirit Radia, Scott Mayerowitz, Jason Ryan, Matt Hosford, Dragana Jovanovic and the Associated Press contributed to this report.