Page last updated at 22:56 GMT, Sunday, 27 December 2009

Obama orders air security review after jet bomb attempt

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on the US 'watch list' review

US President Barack Obama has ordered a review of air security after a Nigerian man was charged with trying to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr Obama wanted to know how a man carrying explosives had managed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Airport security measures in the US and internationally have been tightened.

On Sunday, a passenger on the same Northwest Airlines route triggered a brief security scare.

The FBI later said the passenger had locked himself in a toilet, but the incident had not been serious.

Mr Gibbs told ABC News the system of watch-lists used by US government agencies would be examined, after it emerged that the Christmas Day suspect was listed and known to officials.

A US record for 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was created last month.

'Dangerous substance'

The US government uses three watch-lists, which become shorter as risk increases.

They include one with some 550,000 names on it, a "selectee" list with 18,000 people within the higher-risk category, and a "no-fly" list with 4,000 names of people who are not allowed to board planes.

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

Mr Abdulmutallab was placed on the lowest-risk list by US authorities in November 2009, after his father alerted authorities about the behaviour of his son.

Mr Gibbs said the number of people on the watch-list was "a huge number".

"The president has asked that a review be undertaken to ensure that any information gets to where it needs to go, to the people making the decisions. The president wants to review some of these procedures and see if they need to be updated," he said.

On 24 December Mr Abdulmutallab travelled from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then on to Detroit with an explosive device attached to his body, US officials say.

Shortly before the flight was due to land in the US, he allegedly attempted to detonate the device beneath a blanket but he was overpowered by passengers and crew.

Mr Abdulmutallab, the son of a prominent Nigerian banker, has been charged by US authorities with trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight as it was coming in to land.

US airlines especially have tightened security after the attempt, increasing screenings and body searches and, in some cases, confining passengers to their seats without pillows or blankets for the last hour of their flight.

Mitigation measures

Mr Gibbs said "air detection capabilities" would also be examined as part of the review.

"The president has asked the Department of Homeland Security to answer the - quite frankly - the very real question about how somebody with something as dangerous as PETN could have gotten onto a plane in Amsterdam."

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with his mother (file image)
Mr Abdulmutallab is from a wealthy Nigerian family

Mr Abdulmutallab was allegedly carrying PETN, or pentaerythritol - the same material used by shoe bomber Richard Reid who tried to destroy a transatlantic flight in 2001.

Mr Abdulmutallab's route began in Yemen, from where he travelled to Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria. He then flew from Lagos, Nigeria, to Amsterdam, where he boarded the flight to Detroit.

According to Nigeria's Information Minister Dora Akunyili, Mr Abdulmutallab had arrived and flown out of Nigeria on 24 December.

Nigerian authorities, who on Sunday pledged to co-operate with the US investigation, said all passengers passing through the country's 22 airports would be screened.

Wealthy or influential people and their families are often allowed to skip checks, media reports say.

Speaking to ABC New, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said there was no immediate indication that Mr Abdulmutallab was part of a broader terror plot, but that the investigation was continuing.

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