WASHINGTON - U.S. border security officials learned of intelligence concerning the alleged extremist links of the Christmas Day airline bomber as he was airborne en route to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed, officials disclosed yesterday.
The new information shows that border enforcement officials came close to uncovering the alleged plot involving the Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, despite previous intelligence failures that were criticized by President Barack Obama this week.
"The people in Detroit were prepared to look at him in secondary inspection," a senior law enforcement official said. "The decision had been made. The [database] had picked up the State Department concern . . . that this guy may have been involved with extremist elements in Yemen."
If the intelligence had been detected sooner, it could have resulted in the interrogation and search of Abdulmutallab before he boarded the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight, according to senior law enforcement officials, all of whom requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Nonetheless, the revelations underscore the complexity of the intelligence and passenger screening systems that are the subject of comprehensive reviews that will be revealed today by the administration.
In Detroit yesterday, federal prosecutors filed a six-count indictment charging Abdulmutallab, 23, for his alleged role in the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253. The indictment accuses him of placing a destructive device on an aircraft, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and other charges that carry a penalty of up to life in prison.