Why did US let Abdulmutallab get on a plane to Detroit?

The father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab says he told US officials months ago that his son might be a terrorist threat. Some lawmakers say the Obama administration missed the warning signs – just as it did before the Fort Hood attack.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Detroit bound Delta Airlines plane on Christmas day, is shown in this undated photograph released on December 26.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insisted Sunday that there was no “specific and credible” information to put the alleged attempted bomber of Northwest Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on the federal “no fly” list.

Yet for the second time in a month, the Obama administration finds itself defending its lack of action against a suspect whose tendencies toward radical Islam had been reported to authorities.

The cases are, of course, different.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is the only suspect in the attack that killed 13 people at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, was an American being tracked for corresponding with a known Al Qaeda sympathizer. Colleagues had also raised questions about his increasingly militant beliefs.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, by contrast, came to the attention of authorities only when his father went to the US Embassy in Nigeria and warned officials about his son’s growing radicalization. On Friday, Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted – and failed – to set off a homemade explosive as Flight 253 neared the Detroit airport.

What US knew about Abdulmutallab

A single warning from a father is not enough to put someone on the federal no-fly list, Secretary Napolitano said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “He [Abdulmutallab] was on a general list, which [includes] over half a million people…. But there was not the kind of credible information, in the sense derogatory information, that would move him up the list.”

Republicans are already seeking to connect the Christmas incident with the Fort Hood attack.

"Are we seeing a breakdown in our intelligence community so that when we see these red flags we aren't recognizing them?" Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan, the ranking member on the House Select Intelligence Committee, told Fox News on Saturday. "Congress needs to push to get access to this information to answer these questions."

'Fire them'

There are partisan points to be made in taking a swipe at the administration, certainly. But commentator Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic, hardly a conservative mouthpiece, had similarly stern words:

“Here's a simple test for the Obama administration: find the people responsible for this negligence and fire them,” he said on his blog.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Independent who aligns with the Democrats, has promised hearings when Congress returns for its break.

"I am troubled by several aspects of this case, including how the suspect escaped the attention of the State Department and law enforcers when his father apparently reported concerns about his son's extremist behavior," Senator Lieberman said in a statement.

The Obama administration has taken action since Christmas. President Obama has ordered a review of the terrorist watch list as well as security screening procedures at airports "to ensure that someone who might be carrying explosives like this individual can't get through,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.


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