Passenger Lights Explosives on Airplane

This picture provided by J.P. Karas shows Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on the runway after arriving at Detroit Metropolitan Airport from Amsterdam on Friday, Dec. 25, 2009. A passenger aboard the plane set off firecrackers after landing Friday, injuring two people. He was detained and the FBI is investigating. Delta and Northwest merged beginning in 2008. AP Photo/J.P. Karas

Updated 10:25 p.m. EST

A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on al Qaeda's instructions, set off an explosive device Friday in a failed terrorist attack on the plane as it was landing in Detroit, federal officials said.

Flight 253 with 278 passengers aboard was 20 minutes from the airport when it sounded like a firecracker had exploded, witnesses said. One passenger jumped over others and tried to subdue the man. Shortly afterward, the suspect was taken to a front row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned.

The motive of the Christmas Day attack was not immediately clear.

A senior law enforcement source speaking to CBS News has identified the suspect as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23.

As the plane was on final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the suspect lit and set off what were at first described as fireworks or firecrackers now appear to have been a type of chemical explosive.

The explosive material was apparently taped to the man's leg and lit the lower part of his body. He was immediately subdued and restrained and was later transported to a hospital burn unit.

"It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase," said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands. "First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke."

At least one passenger acted heroically.

Smith said the passenger, sitting opposite the man, climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned. At least one other passenger was injured.

Upon landing, the plane was moved to a remote part of the Detroit airport and authorities at first tried to use a bomb-defusing robot to board the plane.

The suspect has told federal investigators that he was sent by al Qaeda. He claims he picked up the explosive material in Yemen and was instructed to set it off on board an airplane. Those claims could not immediately be verified.

The suspect was on a U.S. government watch list of people with suspected terrorist ties. He was being questioned Friday evening.

The suspect has told federal investigators that he was sent by al Qaeda. He claims he picked up the explosive material in Yemen and was instructed to set it off on board an airplane. Those claims could not immediately be verified.

The suspect was on a U.S. government watch list of people with suspected terrorist ties. He is still being questioned.

"This does not strike us as having the earmarks of any kind of well-planned or well-orchestrated attack," a senior security official told CBS News justice correspondent Bob Orr.

The incident was reminiscent of convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, but was subdued by other passengers. Reid is serving a life sentence.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, ranking Republican member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the flight began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit.

A statement Delta, which acquired Northwest, said, "Upon approach to Detroit, a passenger caused a disturbance onboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The passenger was subdued immediately and the crew requested that law enforcement meet the flight upon arrival.

"The flight, operated by Northwest using an Airbus 330-300 aircraft with 278 passengers onboard, landed safely. The passenger was taken into custody and questioned by law enforcement authorities."

The FBI and the Homeland Security Department issued an intelligence note on Nov. 20 about the threat picture for the 2009 holiday season from the American Thanksgiving holiday through Jan. 1. At the time, intelligence officials said they had no specific information about attack plans by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. The intelligence note was obtained by The Associated Press.

A Homeland Security statement said, "Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights."

President Barack Obama was notified of the incident and discussed it with security officials, the White House said. It said he is monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from his vacation spot in Hawaii.

A senior administration official tells CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer that the incident was "an attempted act of terrorism." But another official speaking to the Associated Press said that an official determination of a terrorist act would have to come from the attorney general.

The official declined to elaborate on how a man on a U.S. terrorist watch list was able to board the airliner. The official said the U.S. plans "different things at different airports" in response to the incident. He declined to elaborate.

He added that the U.S. is "in close touch with Dutch counterparts" because the suspect boarded the airliner in Amsterdam.

The U.S. has not raised its color-coded terrorism threat level.

A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into powder located near his groin, a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks. It's possible, the source said, that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage.

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Susan Elliott had no details on the passenger injuries.

One passenger from the flight was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said. She didn't know the person's condition, or whether the person was a man or woman. She referred all inquiries to the FBI.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about Flight 253 on Friday until it was on final approach to Detroit, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory. That is when the pilot declared an emergency and landed without incident shortly thereafter, Cory said.

The flight left Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport at 8:45 a.m. local time Friday morning and arrived in Detroit a 12:01 p.m. EST.

One U.S. intelligence official said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it.

The passenger was being questioned Friday evening. An intelligence source said the Nigerian passenger was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, hospital.

All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

One passenger from the flight was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said. She didn't know the person's condition, or whether the person was a man or woman. She referred all inquiries to the FBI.

Passenger Syed Jafri, a U.S. citizen who had flown from the United Arab Emirates, said the incident occurred during the plane's descent. Jafri said he was seated three rows behind the passenger and said he saw a glow, and noticed a smoke smell. Then, he said, "a young man behind me jumped on him."

"Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic," he said.

Rich Griffith, a passenger from Pontiac, said he was seated too far in the back to see what had happened. But he said he didn't mind being detained on the plane for several hours. "It's frustrating if you don't want to keep your country safe," he said. "We can't have what's going on everywhere else happening here."

J.P. Karas, 55, of Michigan, said he was driving down a road near the airport and saw a Delta jet at the end of the runway, surrounded by police cars, an ambulance, a bus and some TV trucks.

"I don't ever recall seeing a plane on that runway ever before and I pass by there frequently," he said.

Karas said it was difficult to tell what was going on, but it looked like the front wheel was off the runway.

"We encourage those with future travel plans to stay in touch with their airline and to visit www.tsa.gov for updates," Homeland Security Department said in a statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been briefed on the incident and is closely monitoring the situation.

The department encouraged travelers to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials.
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