An update on the accused Nigerian bomber

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

More details are emerging about the Nigerian man who's accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound flight. But as The World's Matthew Bell reports, there are still many unanswered questions about a possible al Qaeda connection and what the foiled attempt means for airline security.

KATY CLARK: I'm Katie Clark and this is The World. We begin with the latest developments in the case of a Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a US airliner on a flight to Detroit. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab managed to smuggle explosives onto the plane despite the fact that he was on a list of people with possible ties to terrorist groups. President Obama today said his administration is taking extra steps to improve airline security. The World's Matthew Bell has the latest.

MATTHEW BELL: President Obama said the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas day is a serious reminder of the dangers we face, and it's time for some changes. Mr. Obama said he's called for two major policy reviews. First he said the administration is looking at the terrorist watch list system that missed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab.

BARRACK OBAMA: Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in this system but not on a watch list such as the so-called No Fly List. So I've ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened.

MATTHEW: Second, the President is ordering a review of the system for screening airline passengers. That means rethinking the technologies and procedures used to prevent the kind of plot that allegedly unfolded on Friday

OBAMA: We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.

MATTHEW: The President went on to issue this warning.

OBAMA: Those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere, where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland.

MATTHEW: Authorities in London today searched a residence where the alleged bomber is thought to have lived as a university student. British Home Secretary Allen Johnson says the suspect came to the attention of officials there earlier this year.

ALLEN JOHNSON: Omar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was a legitimate UK student on a legitimate student visa. He hasn't been in this country for 14 months and in May he made an application for a fresh student visa, which was refused. As soon as that happened he was on our watch list. If someone was refused a visa they automatically go on our UK watch list.

MATTHEW: Johnson says it's likely that information would have been passed on to US officials. Another warning came from the young suspect's own father. He's a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, and he's reported to have told the US embassy officials in Nigeria that his son had been radicalized by Islamic extremists. Abdul Mutallab's family has issued a statement that said he cut off all contact with relatives about two months ago. The young man is reported to have visited Yemen recently. An on line statement today attributed to Al Qaeda in Yemen said Abdul Mutallab did coordinate the attack with members of the group. As intelligence officials learn more about Abdul Mutallab, terrorism expert Steven Simon at the Council on Foreign Relations says one thing they're focusing on is how this young man from a wealthy Nigerian family became radicalized.

STEVEN SIMON: Radicalization has become a real concern for governments. What is it? How does it happen? And what transforms a rhetorical radical into one who is actually willing to strap a bomb on his leg and get on an airplane and kill a lot of people. You know the answers to these questions aren't self-evident but his father's plea to the embassy was interesting because it suggested that the radicalization happened very rapidly.

MATTHEW: And if that can happen it means counter terrorism officials would have even less time to prevent terrorist plots from unfolding. I'm Matthew Bell.