AC360° Associate Producer
Tonight we’re following the latest discoveries in the plot to take down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. The suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, checked no luggage, reportedly paid cash for his ticket, and allegedly smuggled a powerful plastic explosive, PETN, aboard the plane carrying 300 passengers. Experts say if he had successfully detonated the explosive, it could have blown a sizeable hole in the aircraft. While investigators continue searching for possible accomplices, AbdulMutallab, a Nigerian citizen, is being held for attempting to destroy the plane and placing a destructive device on the aircraft. AbdulMutallab told authorities he is affiliated with al Qaeda in Yemen; today Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted attack, saying it was in retaliation for U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil and threatening further attacks.
The incident on Flight 253 has focused new attention on Yemen, a country that may not immediately come to mind when you think of the war on terror. But in fact, Yemen, a poor and lawless country, is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden and the target of covert U.S. military operations because it is attracting terrorists pushed out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s fair to ask: Will the thwarted Northwest Airlines threat bring American operations in Yemen out in the open and result in U.S. troop involvement? Tonight, we’ll dig deeper into the possible impact on U.S. military strategy and the threat of future attacks by Yemeni al Qaeda operatives.
We’ll also take a close look at the suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who had a multiple-entry visa to the United States and had been added to a watch list of 550,000 potential terrorist threats. His father, a prominent Nigerian banker, apparently contacted Nigerian security agencies and foreign security agencies within the past two months after his son stopped communicating with relatives while studying in Europe. But a senior administration official said the information on AbdulMutallab was not deemed specific enough to pull his visa or put him on a no-fly list. Tonight there are many unanswered questions: How did this privileged young man end up on a flight to Detroit, allegedly with the intent to bring down the plane? Who trained him and helped him to plan the alleged attack? We’ll look at all of this and more.
We’ll also be looking at the security fallout. President Obama today outlined a review of airline security procedures, including the watchlist system that’s designed to keep would-be bombers on the ground. Meantime, the now familiar debate over passenger profiling and privacy has begun again. Which side are you on? Do you feel safe enough or are you in favor of stricter searches and interrogations? We are also hearing about new rules for travelers during the last hour of flight, including banning bathroom visits, blankets, and eliminating tracking maps on in-flight televisions. Do you think these precautions will improve safety or at least calm fears? Should there be more U.S. Air Marshals in the skies? Is that even realistic considering the cost?
We want to know what you think about all of this. Let us know and see you at 10 p.m. eastern.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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