Alleged Christmas Day terrorist is charged

By Devlin Barrett and Eileen Sullivan
Associated Press Writers / December 26, 2009

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WASHINGTON—A 23-year-old Nigerian man was charged Saturday with trying to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight with a powerful explosive device attached to his body as the jetliner approached the Detroit airport on Christmas Day.

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab set off the device he sparked a fire instead of an explosion, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Detroit.

Passengers told federal investigators that Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for about 20 minutes. When he returned to his seat, he said he had an upset stomach and pulled a blanket over him. Passengers then heard a popping noise, similar to a firecracker. They smelled an odor and some passengers saw Abdulmutallab's pant leg and the wall of the airplane on fire.

A passenger told federal investigators that Abdulmutallab was holding a partially melted syringe that was smoking.

A preliminary analysis of the device shows that it contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol. Convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid used this material when he tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes.

One law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the suspect had used a condom or condom-like bag to hide the PETN near his genitals. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.