Skip to Content

Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day turned from uneventful to terror filled when Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, ignited a small explosive device on his lap during landing. The suspect was subdued by passengers and crew – as seen in the video below.

The White House declared the incident an attempted terrorist attack. On Saturday the Department of Justice issued a federal criminal complaint, charging the suspect with attempting to destroy a Northwest Airlines aircraft on its final approach at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The suspect was arraigned in a hospital burn unit on Saturday, according to a Justice Department official. See his passport photo below.

Passengers said the explosion sounded like a balloon popping, followed by the smell of smoke. Passenger Jasper Schuringa of Amsterdam jumped over several seats and tackled the Nigerian and put him in a headlock, while other passengers extinguished a fire that was burning the suspects pants. See photos and video of the hero here.

Other passengers and crew assisted in leading the suspect to the front of the plane, where he was stripped of his clothing to ensure he didn’t have other weapons. He was described as stunned by the incident when he was placed in the front row of first class while the plane landed, some 10 to 20 minutes after the explosion.

Abdulmutallab, who initially flew into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam from Lagos, Nigeria, did not undergo secondary security screening that might have picked up on the contraband device that was later ignited. He later told federal investigators that he had extremist ties and got the device in Yemen along with instruction on how and when to ignite the explosive.

Remains of the device have been sent to Quantico, Virginia for analysis. British counter-terrorism was searching several house in central London on Saturday, looking for a link to al-Qaeda.

The suspect was taken into custody and is hospitalized for treatment of second and third-degree burns on his thighs, according to federal law enforcement and airline security sources. He received a mechanical engineering degree in London, where he lived from 2005-2008. He is reported to be the son of former Nigerian First Bank PLC chairman Alhaji Umar Mutallab, according to CNN.

The incident is similar a bombing attempt on December 22, 2001 by terrorist Richard Reid, who was known as Abdul Raheem and Tariq Raja. He ignited explosives hidden in his shoes while aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. He was a member of al-Qaeda and was dispatched to execute the bombing mission by Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, a senior member of the organization. Reid was sentenced to life imprisonment at Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Passengers and crew were questioned by the FBI in a process that took four to five hours. See several video reports below.