By Arun Kumar
Washington, Dec 27 (IANS) A 23-year-old Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day claims he obtained explosive chemicals and a syringe that were sewn into his underwear from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with Al Qaeda.
US District Judge Paul Borman read the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who comes from a prominent Nigerian family, his charges Saturday in a room at the University of Michigan Medical Centre in Ann Arbor, where he is being treated for burns.
In an affidavit filed in support of the criminal charges, the authorities said FBI agents had recovered from the vicinity of suspect Abdulmutallab's seat what appear to be the remnants of a syringe, believed to have been part of a device that was attached to his body.
Abdulmutallab, had tried to ignite the device resulting "in a fire and what appears to have been an explosion," it said.
The affidavit said the device contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a highly explosive substance that was used in 2001 by Richard C. Reid, the so-called shoe bomber whose attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight was also thwarted.
Federal authorities have not independently corroborated the Yemen connection claimed by Abdulmutallab, the New York Times reported Saturday. But the influential US daily cited a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation as saying that the suspect's account was "plausible. I see no reason to discount it."
Interviews of all of the passengers and crew of Flight 253 revealed that prior to the incident, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for approximately 20 minutes, according to the affidavit.
Upon returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odour, and some observed Abdulmutallab's pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire.
Passengers and crew then subdued Abdulmutallab and used blankets and fire extinguishers to put out the flames. Passengers reported that Abdulmutallab was calm and lucid throughout. One flight attendant asked him what he had had in his pocket, and he replied "explosive device."
Officials cited by the Times said analysis of the remnants of Abdulmutallab' s device was being carried out by the FBI laboratory, but it was possible that had the chemical mixture detonated, it might have brought down the aircraft.
Abdulmutallab told FBI agents he was connected to the Al Qaeda affiliate, which operates largely in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted via the Web.
The cleric is not believed to be Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who has spoken in favour of anti-American violence and who corresponded with Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people in a shooting spree last month at Fort Hood, Texas, the Times said.
In a statement, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said: "We have yet to receive official information on the incident. If and when the would-be bomber's alleged link to Yemen is officially identified, authorities will take immediate action."
If corroborated, Abdulmutallab's travel to Yemen for terrorist instruction and explosives underscores the emergence of that country as a major hub for Al Qaeda, perhaps beginning to rival the terror network's base in Pakistan, the Times said.