|How Safe Are Our Skies?
The Christmas Day Bombing Attempt
On Christmas Day 2009, as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 began its
descent towards Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a 23-year-old man left the
airplane toilet, returned to his seat and pulled a blanket across his
Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was an international passenger flight and was the target of a failed alleged al-Qaeda bombing attempt on Christmas Day, December 25, 2009, in which a passenger tried to set off plastic explosives sewn to his underwear.
There were 290 people on board the plane, which was operated by Northwest Airlines.
He then attempted to detonate a device containing military-grade
explosive PETN, a deadly bomb designed to take the plane out of the sky.
With powerful eyewitness testimony and in-depth expert analysis, this
timely documentary examines how alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
slipped under the US intelligence radar and evaded three sets of
From Abdulmutallab's student days in London,
via his time in the Al Qaeda hotspot of Yemen, to the final leg of his
journey on a flight bound for the USA, the timeline of this story throws
up important questions.
What did security services know about him
before he boarded the plane?
What would have happened to the 290
passengers and crew on board if the bomb had detonated successfully?
What lessons have be learned? And, in the aftermath of this attack, how
safe is it to fly?
Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was an international passenger flight from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands, to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Michigan, United States.
The flight was the target of a failed alleged al-Qaeda bombing attempt on Christmas Day, December 25, 2009, in which a passenger tried to set off plastic explosives sewn to his underwear. There were 290 people on board the plane, which was operated by Northwest Airlines.
The suspected bomber in the "Christmas Day bombing attempt" was 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had concealed plastic explosives in his underwear but failed to detonate them properly, resulting in flames and popping noises.
A Dutch passenger, Jasper Schuringa, tackled and restrained him and put out the fire with the aid of others. Abdulmutallab was then handcuffed while the pilot safely landed the plane. In all, three people were injured: Abdulmutallab, Schuringa, and one other passenger.
Upon landing in Detroit, Abdulmutallab was arrested and taken to a hospital for treatment of his burns. On December 28, 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing.
On January 6, 2010, a federal grand jury indicted Abdulmutallab on six criminal charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder.
Reports indicated that the U.S. had received intelligence regarding a planned attack by a Yemen-based Nigerian man, and it is now believed that Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda member based in Yemen, participated in planning the attack.
While describing security measures taken by U.S. and foreign governments in the immediate aftermath of the attack, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, stated that "once the incident occurred, the system worked." However, she also cited "the actions of the passengers and the crew on this flight" to show "why that system is so important."
After heavy criticism, she stated the following day that the system "failed miserably", this time referring to the fact that Abdulmutallab had been able to board the flight with an explosive device. U.S. President Barack Obama called the U.S.'s failure to prevent the bombing attempt "totally unacceptable", and ordered an investigation.
On April 6, 2010, it was reported that President Obama had authorized the targeted killing of al-Awlaki.