Page last updated at 19:14 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

US investigates why jet bomb suspect still had visa

Photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab supplied by US officials (28 December 2009)
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is from a wealthy Nigerian family

The US homeland security secretary has demanded to know how the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jet had a visa despite being on a watch list.

"We all want to know the answer to that question," Janet Napolitano said.

She also appeared to backtrack on a widely criticised assertion that the aviation security system had worked.

A group called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed it was responsible for the failed attack in a statement on an Islamist website late on Monday.

The Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was arrested after he allegedly tried to set off an explosive device on board a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Friday.

A hearing before a federal judge in the city scheduled for Monday, at which prosecutors were to seek permission to obtain a DNA sample from Mr Abdulmutallab, has been cancelled. No reason was given.

The 23-year-old was earlier moved from a hospital, where he was being treated for burns, to a federal prison.

Mr Abdulmutallab's family has described his recent behaviour as completely out of character. They said he had never caused them concern until he stopped communicating with them earlier this year.

'Extensive review'

His father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, warned the US embassy in Abuja in October that his son had developed radical views and might have travelled to Yemen.

Bomb suspect 'should not have got on plane'

But officials did not revoke his two-year multiple-entry visa, which was issued in June 2008.

Instead, Mr Abdulmutallab's file was marked for a full investigation should he ever reapply for a visa.

His name was also added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide) watch list, which contains the details of around 550,000 people with suspected connections to terrorism but does not prevent them from flying internationally.

Our system did not work in this instance - no-one is happy or satisfied with that
Janet Napolitano
US Homeland Security Secretary

On Sunday, President Barack Obama ordered a review of the creation of watch lists and the use of detection equipment at airport checkpoints, which failed to spot the powerful explosive, pentaerythritol (PETN), allegedly hidden on Mr Abdulmutallab's body.

Ms Napolitano meanwhile said the aviation security system had worked "very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days", prompting widespread criticism from members of Congress and counter-terrorism experts.

But in interviews with US media on Monday, the homeland security secretary said her comment had been taken out of context and that she had instead been referring to the system of notifying other flights as well as law enforcement on the ground about the incident.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on a school trip to London, 2001/2
Son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman
Attended a British school in Togo
Studied mechanical engineering at University College London
Spent time in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt

"Our system did not work in this instance," she told NBC. "No-one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.

"And that's why we are asking - how did this individual get on the plane? Why wasn't the explosive material detected? What do we need to do to change?"

Ms Napolitano told CNN that something had gone "awry" when someone like Mr Abdulmutallab did not have his visa revoked and was allowed to fly.

"We want to fix that problem," she said, adding that the authorities were convinced that the additional screening procedures and on-board security measures put in place since meant air travel was safe.

Earlier, the UK said Mr Abdulmutallab had been placed on its security watch list because he had been refused a visa in 2008 after applying to study at a bogus college. His name was not passed on to the US.

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