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Obama orders review of post-9/11 airline security

A member of the National Guard patrols JFK

A member of the National Guard patrols JFK airport as passengers have their luggage screened on Sunday. (Dec. 27, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The White House Sunday ordered a review of post-9/11 airline security measures that failed to prevent a man from allegedly bringing a small bomb on board a Detroit-bound jetliner last week.

President Barack Obama wants to "figure out why an individual with the chemical explosive that he had on him could get on an airliner in Amsterdam and fly into this country," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian charged in the Christmas Day bomb plot, carried a common military explosive, pentaerythritol, or PETN, onto two planes a month after being placed on a terrorist "watch list" with about a half-million names, authorities say. The explosive did not detonate properly but caused a fire, officials said.

Abdulmutallab was not singled out for extra scrutiny at security checkpoints, nor was his visa affected after his father warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria of his growing extremism. His father's warnings put him on the watch list, officials said.

The Department of Homeland Security review will look at the watch list - the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment - and how it's used to screen air passengers, Gibbs said. The procedures were developed under previous administrations, he said.

"The president wants to review some of these older procedures and see if quite frankly they're outdated," Gibbs said on ABC's "This Week."

Officials at airports in Lagos, Nigeria, where Abdulmutallab first boarded, and in Amsterdam, where he switched planes to Northwest Flight 253, said all procedures were followed.

PETN cannot be detected by magnetometers, the device most air passengers pass through, including Abdulmutallab on Christmas Eve. Airports in Lagos and Amsterdam had a limited number of full body scanners that may have detected the explosives, which officials say were sewn into his underwear.

Abdulmutallab, who suffered burns in the incident, will appear in court for the first time Monday. He was released from a guarded hospital room in Ann Arbor, Mich., to a federal jail cell.

Abdulmutallab has claimed that Yemeni militants with ties to al-Qaida gave him the explosives, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday the link was still being probed.

"We'll ascertain whether he is what he says he is," she said on "Meet the Press." She added that it appeared Abdulmutallab was working alone and not as part of a coordinated effort with multiple attacks planned.

Fears were raised again Sunday when another Northwest Airlines flight - with the same number and route - called authorities to report a Nigerian passenger acting strangely. Federal officials later said the man was not a threat, merely ill and locked in the lavatory.

The man had food poisoning, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.The attack's effects may be long-lasting. Napolitano warned air passengers Sunday to expect new security measures such as staying seated for the last hour of the flight to be "continuing for a while."

The White House announced the security review as Republicans stepped up criticism. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC, "It's amazing to me that an individual like this who was sending out so many signals could end up getting on a plane going to the U.S."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said: "In many ways this is a gift because no one was injured, so let's learn from the mistakes. We have to make the lists more effective." With AP

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