By Mira Oberman (AFP) – Jan 8, 2010
DETROIT, Michigan — A young Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a US plane on Christmas Day appears in court Friday for the first time as police and marshals locked down security around a Detroit courthouse.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, faces six charges after his arrest following the botched Al-Qaeda plot, when a device allegedly stitched into his underwear failed to detonate on board a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The thwarted bombing has triggered US and global alarm, leading the United States to adopt stringent new screening and security measures at airports around the world. Dozens of names have also been added to no-fly lists.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a sweeping overhaul of flawed intelligence services, but said "ultimately the buck stops with me."
He unveiled measures including strengthening US watchlists and boosting airport screening as part of broad orders to close US security gaps. Related article: Obama orders 'immediate' steps after security failure.
Releasing two reports on the plane plot, Obama said spy agencies did not properly "connect and understand" disparate data that could have detected the plot earlier as it was planned by an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
He said the probes revealed that US analysts knew Abdulmutallab was an extremist and knew Al-Qaeda in Yemen was plotting an attack -- but could not connect the two strands of intelligence.
Abdulmutallab, who spent time in Yemen in 2009, faces six charges arising out of the incident, including attempted murder of the 290 people on board the plane and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.
Ahead of his 2:00pm (1900 GMT) arraignment when he is expected to enter a plea, US marshals were helping local police secure the area.
"Our security measures have been ramped up to the highest level. We don't anticipate any problem, but we are taking this very seriously," Kevin Pettit, spokesman for the US Marshals service in Detroit, told AFP.
There were only a few visible signs of police early Friday, apart from a truck parked near the corner of the majestic, Depression-era Theodore Levin Courthouse, as a light dusting of snow covered the streets.
Metal barricades to control traffic cut the road in half as nearly a dozen news crews had set up across the street, while an American flag blew in the gentle wind under blue skies.
But inside two bomb-sniffing dogs were paced from room to room and, as is now standard for courtrooms, every visitor to the building passed through a metal detector.
In a continued sign of the heightened vigilance, two alleged associates of an Afghan immigrant accused of planning attacks in New York were arrested by the FBI on Friday.
They are "associates" of Najibullah Zazi, who is accused of links to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and of plotting a bombing spree in New York last year around the anniversary of the 2001 attacks, a law enforcement source said, asking not to be named.
Obama has repeatedly singled out the Zazi investigation as proof that US intelligence is in fact doing a good job against an increasingly multi-headed foe.
Dismissing criticism that his administration has been too soft on terror, the US president said Thursday the United States was "at war with Al-Qaeda."
But he vowed Americans would not be forced into adopting a "siege" mentality.
A group of Muslim faith leaders was planning to rally outside the Detroit courthouse with signs declaring "not in our name."
"The collective goal of all of us, as our president has spoken about, is to defeat the extremists and Al-Qaeda," said organizer Victor Ghalib Begg, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan.
Obama said failure to spot the Christmas plot was "not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies." Related article: US 'plane bomber' met radical cleric
But he added: "I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer.
"Ultimately the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »