ROMULUS, Mich. – An attempted terrorist attack on a Christmas Day flight began with a pop and a puff of smoke — sending passengers scrambling to subdue a Nigerian man who claimed to be acting on orders from al-Qaida to blow up the airliner, officials and travelers said.
The commotion began as Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew members from Amsterdam, prepared to land in Detroit just before noon Friday. Travelers said they smelled smoke, saw a glow, and heard what sounded like firecrackers. At least one person climbed over others and jumped on the man, who officials say was trying to ignite an explosive device.
"It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase," said Peter Smith, a passenger from the. "First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke."
Smith said one 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.
Afterward, the suspect was taken to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Multiplealso said the man appeared badly burned on his legs, indicating the explosive was strapped there. The components were apparently mixed in-flight and included a powdery substance, multiple law enforcement and counterterrorism officials said.
The White House said it believed it was an attempted act of terrorism and stricter security measures were quickly imposed on airline travel. Dutch anti-terrorism authorities said the U.S. has asked all airlines to take extra precautions on flights worldwide that are bound for the United States.
The incident was reminiscent of Richard Ried, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, but was subdued by other passengers.
Multiple law enforcement officials identified the suspect in Friday's attempted attack as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. He was described as Nigerian.
One law enforcement official said the man claimed to have been instructed by al-Qaida to detonate the plane over U.S. soil, but other law enforcement officials cautioned that such claims could not be verified immediately, and said the man may have been acting independently — inspired but not specifically trained or ordered by terror groups.