Christmas Day Terror Suspect Moved to Prison; Air Security Measures Questioned

WH orders review on how a terrorist suspect boarded two planes with a bomb.

December 27, 2009, 2:29 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2009 — -- The 23-year-old Nigerian man charged with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas was transferred today from the University of Michigan Medical center, where he was treated for burns, to a federal prison in Milan, Mich., 50 miles from Detroit.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, when passengers heard a loud pop and noticed smoke and flames coming from his legs. A Dutch film director immediately approached the suspect, put out the flames, and subdued him with help from other passengers and crewmembers.

Abdulmutallab was charged Saturday with attempting to destroy or wreck an aircraft, and placing a destructive device in a plane. Abdulmutallab faces a federal court hearing Monday at 2 p.m., during which prosecutors will seek to obtain DNA samples, per federal rules. will not be appearing at his court hearing tomorrow. Abdulmutallab is not expected to be at the hearing.

While Obama administration officials tried to reassure the country that the response to the incident proved that the airline security measures put in place after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are working, a second incident -- on the same flight number as the Christmas Day attempted bombing -- sparked new fears.

At around 12:30 p.m. ET, Northwest Airlines alerted the Transportation Security Administration of a suspicious male who spent a considerable amount of time in the airplane lavatory. Federal law personnel responded immediately. As with the Christmas day incident, President Obama was briefed on the emergency while vacationing in Hawaii. It turned out to be a false alarm – a man with food poisoning, but it underscored the real threat faced just two days ago.

Today the White House ordered a review to answer two critical questions about gaps airline security. First, how Abdulmutallab – a man on a terrorist watch-list whose father had warned U.S. authorities of his radicalism – managed to board a plane bound for the United States, and second, how he managed to get past airport security with explosives, onto two separate flights from Nigeria to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam to Michigan.

Napolitano explained that after Abdulmutallab's father, a wealthy Nigerian banker, had reported his son's growing radicalism to a U.S. embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, Abdulmutallab was placed on a Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list, but not placed on a "no-fly" or a "selectee" list, which would have prevented him from boarding a plane.

"There were simply, throughout the law enforcement community, never information that would put this individual on a no-fly list or a selectee list. So that's number one," Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said on ABC's "This Week.

"Number two, I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have," she said. "The passengers reacted correctly, the crew reacted correctly, within an hour to 90 minutes, all 128 flights in the air had been notified. And those flights already had taken mitigation measures on the off-chance that there was somebody else also flying with some sort of destructive intent."

Napolitano also tried to reassure the public.

"The system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days," said on ABC's "This Week." Napolitano said the U.S. was working with authorities in Amsterdam to make sure screening there was done properly.

But critics say the system, in fact, may not be working.

"This is, in my view, is probably one of the worst situations I've ever heard of. And to cast this as the system working is not really what the American public needs to hear," former FBI agent Jack Cloonan said in an interview with ABC News.

And Republicans accused the White House of complacency amid a steady stream of attacks, including the deadly shooting at Fort Hood.

"The threat to the United States, is real. I think this administration has downplayed it. They need to recognize it, identify it," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., on "Fox News Sunday."

Gibbs rejected that the administration is not doing all that it can to fight terrorism.

"The president is very confident that this government is taking the steps that are necessary to take – to take our fight to those that seek to do us harm," he said.

Federal law enforcement sources tell ABC News that the incident is a sobering reminder that the war against terrorism is a deadly game of chess, with terrorists becoming more creative all the time.

ABC News' Tahman Bradley, Jason Ryan, Richard Esposito, Michael S. James, and Reynolds Holding contributed to this story.

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