A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on al-Qaida’s instructions, set off an explosive device Friday in a failed terrorist attack on the plane as it was landing in Detroit, federal officials said.


A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on al-Qaida’s instructions, set off an explosive device Friday in a failed terrorist attack on the plane as it was landing in Detroit, federal officials said.

Flight 253 with 278 passengers aboard was 20 minutes from the airport when it sounded like a firecracker had exploded, witnesses said. One passenger jumped over others and tried to subdue the man. Shortly afterward, the suspect was taken to a front row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned.

The White House said it believed it was an attempted act of terrorism and stricter security measures were quickly imposed on airline travel, but were not specified.

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. Others had slightly different spellings.

One law enforcement source said the man claimed to have been instructed by al-Qaida to detonate the plane over U.S. soil.

“It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase,” said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands. “First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke.”

At least one passenger acted heroically.

Smith said the passenger, sitting opposite the man, climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

The incident was reminiscent of convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, but was subdued by other passengers. Reid is serving a life sentence.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the flight began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit.

A statement Delta, which acquired Northwest, said, “Upon approach to Detroit, a passenger caused a disturbance on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The passenger was subdued immediately and the crew requested that law enforcement meet the flight upon arrival.

“The flight, operated by Northwest using an Airbus 330-300 aircraft with 278 passengers on board, landed safely. The passenger was taken into custody and questioned by law enforcement authorities.”

The FBI and the Homeland Securitvelers to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials.

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Jakes reported from Baghdad, Iraq. Randi Berris in West Bloomfield, Mich., and Devlin Barrett, Shelley Adler, Eileen Sullivan, Pamela Hess and Joan Lowy in Washington, and Philip Elliott in Kailua, Hawaii, contributed to this report.