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Plane bomb suspect out of hospital after attack

The Detroit airport terminal where a passenger was

The Detroit airport terminal where a passenger was taken into custody from a Northwest Airlines flight after he tried to ignite explosives on Friday, according to officials. (Dec. 25, 2009) Credit: AP

The Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a commercial airliner on Christmas Day has been released from the hospital and into the custody of federal marshals, authorities said.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Detroit, Gina Balaya, says Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab  is being kept in a secure location. She offered no other details Sunday.

The 23-year-old Abdulmutallab was being treated for burns at University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

A month after the U.S. State Department inquired about him with counterterrorism officials, a young Nigerian man was charged Saturday with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial airliner on Christmas with explosives that had been sewn into his underwear, officials said.

Abdulmutallab, 23, was arraigned Saturday on federal charges of trying to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by blowing up PETN, pentaerythritol. Hospitalized with burns at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Abdulmutallab told a judge in English that he understood the charges.

The charges came as repercussions of the brazen attempt were felt across the world and a month after Abdulmutallab's father reportedly had warned U.S. officials about his son.

Strict new security measures were unveiled for airline passengers traveling within and to the United States. Congress pledged hearings next month into how such an attack could occur with post-9/11 security measures. And investigators worked to confirm claims that Abdulmutallab had contact with al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists in Yemen.

New details Saturday revealed a high level of sophistication, terrorism experts said.

According to a federal criminal complaint, Abdulmutallab - among 279 passengers and 11 crew members flying from Amsterdam to Detroit - got up to use the restroom when the plane was about 40 minutes from landing. He returned about 20 minutes later, declared his stomach was upset and pulled a blanket over himself, the complaint said.

Suddenly, passengers "heard popping noises similar to firecrackers," the complaint said. They turned to see both the airplane's wall and Abdulmutallab's leg on fire.

Passengers step in

Several passengers subdued him and took from him a melting, smoking syringe. Abdulmutallab was "calm and lucid" after the altercation. A flight attendant asked him what was in his pocket and he replied, "Explosive device," the complaint said.

The complaint said the syringe was probably part of that device, which contained PETN. The FBI said it is still analyzing the explosive material used.

Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Abdulmutallab had the syringe full of an undisclosed liquid and container full of PETN sewn into his underwear. The liquid's reaction with the explosive would set off an explosion, the sources said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said, "If this had worked right, the plane would have come down."

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Homeland Security Committee chairman, said hearings would be held to "get to the bottom of what did and did not happen with Mr. Abdulmutallab."

Questions revolve around how Abdulmutallab boarded a plane bound for the United States even after his father, a Nigerian banker, reportedly warned U.S. officials in Nigeria about his son's extremist views.

"There appears to be a full breakdown in security," King said.

King said the U.S. State Department inquired with counterterrorism officials Nov. 23 about Abdulmutallab, and he was put on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a "watch list."

But a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect's father's information was too vague to ban the man from entering the United States or even to single him out for additional scrutiny at airports.

Andy Lainey, a State Department spokesman, said Abdulmutallab was issued a visa in June 2008, when there was "no derogatory information" about him. Lainey declined to say whether Abdulmutallab's father's warnings caused officials to consider revoking his visa last month.

King said Abdulmutallab did not go through full body scanners before boarding planes first in Lagos, Nigeria, and then in Amsterdam. Both airports have them; they have been used in Lagos to combat the drug trade, news reports said, while Amsterdam is still testing them.

King said PETN cannot be detected by magnetometers, the devices that most passengers pass through, including Abdulmutallab on Thursday.

Possible Yemen ties

King and other members of the Homeland Security Committee said there was emerging evidence that Abdulmutallab received some terrorist training in Yemen. Abdulmutallab told the FBI that he trained with an al-Qaida affiliate there that he contacted by the Internet.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is on the House intelligence committee, told The Washington Post that Abdulmutallab "most likely" has ties to Anwar al-Aulaqi, a radical Muslim cleric who had exchanged e-mails with Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused in last month's Fort Hood shootings.

Police Saturday searched Abdulmutallab's London apartment.

The possible al-Qaida connection raises several questions, said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at The George Washington University. "Was this a broader plot?" Cilluffo said. "Were they testing to see what they could pull off?"

With staff writers Tom Brune and Matthew Chayes, The Associated Press and Reuters

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