December 28th, 2009
07:32 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Why did airliner terror suspect still have U.S. visa?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/12/28/airline.terror.attempt/story.suspect.air.usm.jpg]

Ella Perlis
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.

Filed under: Ella Perlis • The Buzz
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Nouil

    – If he wanted to blow a hole in the aircraft, he could easily detonate the explosive while he was in the toilet. For what reason he came back to his seat?
    – If the device used is similar to the one that targeted the Saudi prince several months ago, why the other terrorist succeeded in detonating the device without the need for setting up a fire into his ownclothes !?
    – According to many Muslim scholars and prominent religious figures, a visa to enter any foreign country constitutes a covenant or contract that the visa holder should maintain the blood and money of the population of that country. If these brain-washed kids and their masters are real Muslims they will never breach their contracts – an issue that is strongly emphasized in thw Quran.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:41 am |
  2. sandra warner

    I agree not enough communication between countries but here is something it seems no one is asking why is it allowed to carry matches and lighters onboard?when women can not carry perfume or travelers can not bring onboard water something very wrong here!they lifted the bann back in 2002 I believe that matches were allowed on board so if he didnt have them he would never be able to start a fire and by the grace of God no one was murdered again!!!here is another question why doesnt the Government say no more travelers from Yemen,Nigeria, or any muslim to travel into United States we have not been allowed for what 45years to fly into Cuba and yet these nuts are warning of us of more to come.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:21 am |
  3. Eric

    How could he possibly have been allowed to fly..

    This is an outrage and only heightens my greatest fears, that our country has only gotten more vulnerable within the years,

    I was following the story, I'm assuming U.S. intervention is imminent?

    December 29, 2009 at 5:15 am |
  4. john

    One thing CNN and the rest of the obama media better ask themselves is do I want myself or have my family aboard an airplane when our administration is to worried about how they look rather than do what it takes to combat terrorism and terrorist. Remember when you sit and watch your local news and you see the guy who just robbed the local 7-11 that your president thinks there is no difference between him or her and someone who wants to kill as many americans as possible. It has been 11 months and still noone will hold Obama accountable for his actions. His campaign and governess has been lets blame Bush the media and the public are stupid and will fall for it. Guess what the media has but the public has wised up.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:54 am |
  5. Samson Masiya

    I am little bit concern over the security system it self, we may blame Amsterdam security system but it is all over, I'm Australian who traveled a week ago from Australia to the US.
    Some one can easily go through with his/her explosive without anything to detect, just like what happened with the real terrorist who was attempting kill innocent people on christmas hollyday. The security system is getting poor rather then getting strong.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:45 am |
  6. ahmad

    as an arab-american i think that those animals terrorist who is trying to destroy what the sivilizede world built, should be erased frome this world.
    those animals are making me ashame of being porn muslem..
    and i think that the government should take no mercy not only on those animals killers but olso no mercy on those who suport them because terrorists do not belong to the human race.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  7. MJ from Az

    To paraphrase a line from the Jack Nicholson move, 'The Departed'...
    "I smell a cheese eatin' rat!"

    December 29, 2009 at 2:39 am |
  8. Marjorie Albert

    I read somewhere that he didn't have a passport and was accompanied to 'check-in' by a very well-dressed 'businessman-type' to talk authorities into letting him on the plane because he was a 'refugee' from Sudan. Obviously he got on the plane. Unfortunately I cannot find the source now – think it was a 'twitter' link. Did anyone else see this and is there any follow-up on it?

    December 29, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  9. Jose

    I heard the terrorist is asking for a "Court Appointed Lawyer"....The law baby needs a changing

    December 29, 2009 at 1:48 am |
  10. joe

    You guys are the best. Fantastic reporting. Next step getting Napolitano to resign or be fired.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:34 am |
  11. Wamiq

    How could he board a plane without Passport, when visa is stamped on the passport.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:30 am |
  12. Alain

    I was on the plane, I was on seat 18H seating on the row before the terrorist and I was the first one to notice the fire (smoke). And I helped put the fire out and calm all the ladies seating on the line.
    We did not see this guy going thru a secondary search or any one in Amsterdam.
    When we heard the explosion, I stood up, we tought it was from outside the plane, couple of minutes later, smoke started to come out the passenger and he was trying to get something from his bag and I yelled there is fire and not even the next minutes a big flame started and while I was trying get the ladies to calm down, a deutsh passenger seating on the third seat behind me junped on the guy and grabbed, we then passed blanked and water to them to put the fire while two flight attendant went to get fire extinguishers and sprayed on the terror suspects and other stuff around his seat and we were able to put the fire out.As far as Amsterdam, he was no search done on passengers,only ID check .

    We were excorted out of the plane to the immigration area and kept there until about 4h30PM when we were then told that FBI took over the investigation and we were all going to be interview before leaving the airport.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  13. wole

    In my opinion, all the 550,000+ people on that list should be marked no-fly, if any of them feels his/her name should not be there let such a person come forward to argue his/her case. By so doing, the risk can be mitigated.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  14. roy

    there is nothing new with big problems at airport security. My question is:
    Why are we not outraged by Janet Napolitano's lack of knowledge and control???
    Why would we accept her statement that she just doesnt know what happened????
    You guys want to do something good here, so lets find out why she doesnt know a darn thing eh?

    December 29, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  15. rich

    Give me a break, we're still finding excuses instead of fixing issues. Have we learn anything after 9/11? what?

    December 29, 2009 at 12:13 am |
  16. Sallye

    I think the question should be, " how many people on any of our "questionable lists" have successfully got on planes?
    Isn't each attempt a trial run?

    December 29, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  17. Holly

    The majority of people who are flying are NOT terrorists, but we are the ones who are targeted by the new and absurd security measures. It would be really great if the CIA, FBI and other intel departments worldwide would do their jobs, communicate and start profiling these people. There are obvious red-flags that should keep people from being able to board a plane, one would be they were recently in Yemen.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  18. Sally Lewis

    Are you kidding me with all the questions as to how this could happen? Come on...our government is allowing this to happen...the U.S. is behind it!

    December 28, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  19. karen

    breakdown,or same old non communication between intelligence gathering departments. fbi, cia, wake up you ar enot in competion, u need to share info, for our security. stop abusing americans, go after the terrosists

    December 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  20. Bernard Jenkins

    I can't believe the worry about being checked out in the crotch area.If terrorists know that the crotch area is taboo,then certainly they will find ways to hide explosives.

    December 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  21. Bob Sherbondy

    The most frightening aspect of this incident is the realization that an individual with suicidal terrorist intentions can get on an airplane and fly into an American city without being stopped. What if he had flown without any explosives or a weapon of any kind and simply planned to acquire or make what he planned to use after he got into an American city? Suicide bombers don't need to import explosives and there a lot of available targets in American cities that are easier to penetrate than flying jets. We were lucky.

    December 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  22. Richard Nickelson

    It seems to me that the Department of State has had a major role to play in this drama. Why has none of the major network commentators interviewed Hillary Clinton about that role?

    From news reports in the major media, it seems that critical information from Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab's father that was given to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria hit a brick wall somewhere. Where? Why?

    December 28, 2009 at 9:32 pm |
  23. Michelle

    I saw Jack Gray's tweet about the couple who say he
    didn't have a passport and might have been aided by
    someone in Amsterdam. The international community
    must share information to combat this.

    December 28, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  24. Msohio1

    There seems to be a miraculous lesson here. The world-wide commitment to fighting terrorism must be a coordinated one. We can't fight this around the world-alone. And Republicans and Democrats, here at home, must start working together for the good of the country, not just for a political soundbite.

    December 28, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  25. gail

    US Visa was obtained before he became "radicalized". Unfortunately not enough information before he bought the one way ticket to yank his visa or place him on the no fly list.

    December 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  26. Carol

    It's imperative that the airlines FIND a way to screen for these explosives. Otherwise, it won't matter if an air marshall is on the plane in this type of deadly situation. Your blog provided a lot of details, as well as questions to ponder. Hopefully, there is solutions.

    December 28, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  27. w covin

    you here alot of talk about obama not addressing the latest airline incident quick enough. when time is important and leads are freash thats when he needs to be consentrating on the information at hand. i would rather have him there than trying to please the public or press.SMART MAN

    December 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  28. Annie Kate

    The government can keep building a "better mousetrap" of its security system but its going to take cooperation across police bodies, countries, and the airlines. Also remember there is no such thing as a moron proof system – must more morons that break the system in a different way. Hopefully, we'll get the system to behave the way we need it to but it may take many reiterations before we get it just exactly right.

    December 28, 2009 at 7:54 pm |
  29. Tim Gibson

    The fact that this individual was on any type of watch list should have prevented him from having a visa to the US period, much less a multi-use visa.

    As well, a one way ticket, purchased with cash, no checked luggage should have been enough red flags flying to prevent him from boarding a flight.

    December 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  30. Ill Susan

    Report was that he obtained his Visa while he was still in London; when he still had his valid student status. This was prior to his travels to Yemen and breaking off communications with his family.

    The potential problem is the lack of cross-check of databases – Visa applications/granted and "persons of interest." This is part of the point of the Review POTUS is demanding. (Still, parts of the government dont talk well enough with each other. This is the one time that "talking with yourself" is laudable.)

    December 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm |