Dutch to use full body scanners for US flights

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 10:46am

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Netherlands announced Wednesday it will immediately begin using full body scanners for flights heading to the United States, issuing a report that called the failed Christmas Day airline bombing a "professional" terror attack.

"It is not exaggerating to say the world has escaped a disaster," Interior Minister Guusje Ter Horst told a news conference.

She said the U.S. had not wanted these scanners to be used previously because of privacy concerns but said the Obama administration in Washington now agreed that "all possible measures will be used on flights to the U.S."

Officials say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, managed to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport carrying undetected explosives but failed to detonate them. The plane was carrying over 300 people.

In its preliminary report, the Dutch government called the plan to blow up the Detroit-bound aircraft "professional" but said its execution was "amateurish."

Abdulmutallab arrived in Amsterdam on Friday from Lagos, Nigeria on a KLM flight. After a layover of less than three hours, he passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metal detector, and headed to the Northwest flight.

Ter Horst said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the Northwest aircraft toilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals. She said the explosives appeared to have been professionally prepared and had been given to Abdulmutallab, but did not elaborate.

"The approach in this case shows — despite the failure of the attack — a fairly professional approach," a summary of the investigation said. "Pentrite is a very powerful conventional explosive, which is not easy to produce yourself, nor is its production without risk."

"If you want to detonate it, you have to do that another way than he did. That is why we talk about amateurism," Ter Horst said.

Abdulmutallab was carrying a valid Nigerian passport and had a valid U.S. visa, the Dutch said. His name also did not appear on any Dutch list of terror suspects.

"No suspicious matters which would give reason to classify the person involved as a high-risk passenger were identified during the security check," Ter Horst said.

Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy an aircraft, is being held at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

Amsterdam's Schiphol has 15 body scanners, but their use has been limited because of privacy objections that they display the contours of the passenger's body. Neither the European Union nor the U.S. have approved the routine use of the scanners at European airports.

New software, however, eliminates that problem by projecting a stylized image onto a computer screen, highlighting the area of the body where objects are concealed in pockets or under the clothing and alerting security guards.

At least two scanners have been experimentally using that software since late November and the Dutch said those will be put into use immediately. All other scanners will be upgraded within three weeks so they can be used on flights to the United States.

"Our view now is that the use of millimeter wave scanners would certainly have helped detect that he had something on his body, but you can never give 100 percent guarantees," Ter Horst said.

Meanwhile, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that a man tried to board a commercial airliner in the Somali capital of Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe in a case bearing chilling similarities to the Detroit airliner plot.

The Somali man — whose name has not yet been released — was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13 Daallo Airlines flight took off. It had been scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai. A Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi Hassan Barise, said the suspect is in Somali custody.

"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Barise.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama demanded a preliminary report by Thursday from U.S. security authorities on what went wrong in the Detroit airliner case. Obama said the intelligence community should have been able to piece together information that would have raised "red flags" and possibly prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding the airliner.

"There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security," Obama told reporters in Hawaii, calling the intelligence shortcomings "totally unacceptable."

"There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have — and should have — been pieced together," he said.

"Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged," Obama said. "The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America."

Abdulmutallab had been placed in one expansive database, but he never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite his father's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa being revoked.

Law enforcement officials believe the suspect tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the high explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive. It set off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation.

U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen — which lies across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Similarly, large swaths of Somalia are controlled by an insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida.

Western officials say many of the hundreds of foreign jihadi fighters in Somalia come in small boats across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.

A Somali security official involved in the capture of the suspect in Mogadishu said he had a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) package of chemical powder and a container of liquid chemicals.

Once security officials detected the powder chemicals and syringe, the suspect tried to bribe the security team that detained him, the Somali security official said. The security official said the suspect had a white shampoo bottle with a black acid-like substance in it. He also had a clear plastic bag with a light green chalky substance and a syringe containing a green liquid. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Comments News Comments

Post new Comment