Inside the Middle East
January 8, 2010
Posted: 648 GMT

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) - A terror suspect in the attempted bombing of a U.S. jetliner was radicalized in Britain, but did meet with a radical Muslim Cleric in Yemen, a top government official said Thursday.

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab has now been charged on six counts by a U.S. Grand Jury
Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab has now been charged on six counts by a U.S. Grand Jury

The meeting between Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki took place in Shabwa, about 290 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of the capital, Sanaa, according to Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Rashad Al-Alemi.
No other details about the encounter were immediately available.

U.S. intelligence officials have been evaluating whether al-Awlaki played a role in the botched attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit, Michigan on Christmas Day.

The attempt to ignite explosives hidden in AbdulMutallab's underwear failed to bring down the plane.

A federal grand jury indicted AbdulMutallab Wednesday on six counts, including an attempt to murder the other 289 people aboard.

If convicted, the 23-year-old Nigerian national faces a sentence of life in prison. Read full article

Filed under: Christmas •CNN Coverage •U.S. •Yemen

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Robert   January 8th, 2010 6:52 pm ET

As the smoke clears following the case of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the failed Christmas Day “underpants bomber” of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 fame, there are just three simple points for us Westerners to take away.

First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.

Second: This does not matter. There is no need for greater efforts on security.

Third: A terrorist set fire to his own trousers, suffering eyewateringly painful burns to what Australian cricket commentators sometimes refer to as the “groinal area”, and nobody seems to be laughing. What’s wrong with us?

We’ll look at the first part to begin with.

In order to destroy an airliner and kill everyone on board, one needs to do a certain amount of damage to it: a lot if it is on the ground without much fuel in it, not so much if it is fuelled up, less yet if it is flying at low altitude, and least of all if it is flying high up.

Formerly there was the option of gaining access to the flight deck – perhaps using the aircraft as a weapon, as on 9/11, perhaps to carry out a hostage strategy – but those days are gone. The 9/11 hijackers have seen to it that the best and most effective ways for terrorists to employ airliners are no longer open to them. Pilots will never open flight deck doors again, no matter the threat to hostages in the cabin; passengers will not permit themselves to be dominated; armed sky marshals are back. If all these fail, following the bloodbath at Ground Zero fighter pilots will not hesitate to shoot.

So the damage must nowadays be done by other means than crashing, most practically by detonating a charge of high explosives on the plane while in flight. This doesn’t need to be too big, especially if the jet is at cruising height so that the explosive effects will be enhanced by depressurisation. This is why airliners are a favourite target: because a fairly small amount of explosive can potentially kill a large number of people in one go, which is not the case under most circumstances.

It is an unfortunate and pretty much unavoidable fact that the necessary amount of explosives can easily be carried through any current or likely-future airport security regime, short of universal strip + cavity searches and a total ban on carry-on luggage.

Let’s consider, for instance, a future security check involving backscatter X-ray-through-clothes perv scans – much more effective than millimetre wave – and X-raying of carry-on bags as is already normal. There are several ways to beat this.

Firstly, detonators and firing devices can be disguised within permitted electronic equipment such that they will pass through X-raying without trouble. An AA battery casing full of hexamethylenetriperoxidediamine (HMTD) – or some similar sensitive primary – with a flashbulb filament in it is almost impossible for an X-ray operator to pick out from among others, and can be triggered by the flash circuits of any camera.

The difficult bit is the main charge, which needs to be a decent weight and volume of acceptably stable high explosive. But it’s not that difficult. Here are just a few ideas:

* Several terrorists – only one of whom would need to go aboard the target flight – could carry permissible amounts of liquid explosives through security, combining them later in the air-side lavatories.
* Readily available plastic explosives can be rolled out into flat, uniform sheets – they can actually be bought in this form, for instance under the name “Sheetex” – and cut to shape with ease. Such sheets can easily be inserted into luggage, where they won’t look noticeably different from normal cardboard or plastic structure, partitions etc under X-ray if they aren’t too thick. There are many other ploys along these lines; a sensible and well-resourced terror group could probably buy an X-ray machine and develop a bag containing a charge, detonator and firing circuit which looked entirely legit under scan.
* Reasonable amounts of main charge can be carried stuffed into body cavities, undetectable by any body-scan. They would need to be removed before use in order to escape the pronounced dampening effect of the human body, and probably combined with other such payloads to get a bang sure to do the job, but again teamwork and lavatories will see to this.
* There’s more scope still for the use of checked baggage. US and many other airports nowadays X-ray this, but there are airports which don’t. You can easily find out, as a terrorist organisation, routes on which a checked bag won’t be X-rayed by packing some unexposed film and making some flights. Once you have identified an airport that doesn’t X-ray checked bags, simply put a large time- or barometrically-triggered bomb into a suitcase and have your suicide operative check it before boarding.

The list goes on – and on. Any reasonably competent terrorist organisation, with access to funds, capable technical experts and a small number of operatives able to move about the world freely can blow up airliners in flight. You wouldn’t even necessarily need suicide volunteers to carry the bombs, if you were cunning: dupes might be convinced that they were smuggling drugs, money or other contraband, or IRA-style “proxy bombers” could be forced to do your bidding by seizing and threatening their families.

Hope   January 9th, 2010 3:44 am ET

The World According To Americans

A. Smith, Oregon   January 9th, 2010 11:12 pm ET

How is propping up a corrupt leader by the guns and lives of American soldiers leading to any definition of success or victory? A large number of Afghanistan people reject Karzi, a large number of people reject the Iraqi leader and a large number of Yemen people reject the Yemen leader. Those corrupt leaders are not accepted by a majority of the people in their own country's and without American weapons and support, none of those corrupt men would remain leaders of those country's.

Does forcing a corrupt leader by the guns and lives of American soldiers upon nations of people that reject that man lead to making Americans safer?

Does forcing a corrupt leader by the guns and lives of American soldiers upon nations of people that reject that man lead to making the world safer?

John A   January 10th, 2010 11:45 am ET

A.Smith have you just realized America is wrong. Wow after 8 years of needless wars it sounds like an American has switched off his PlayStation and given this nightmare a moments thought.

America's leadership has been illiterate for 8 years i.e. "war on terror".
Terror is an emotional state and a nation can't declare war on an emotional state (not unless we live in Orwell's 1984).

Only the illiterate Bush could have promoted such an illiterate concept and only lazy Americans, who cant be bothered to read or research would swallow all the idiotic news on mainstream US TV.

So please go to the Internet, go to the library, read books ask questions and switch of your TV. Cheers

Filipe   January 11th, 2010 9:28 pm ET


Thanks for dissertation on DIY terrorism!

I'm surprised CNN permits radical nonsense like this to be published on their website !

Sharon   January 12th, 2010 10:21 am ET

Filipe due to the concept of free speech, all can post blogs on this website. Please understand that nobody is interested in the blogs of Filipe or your imaginary friend Carlos. But due to free speech, you are entitled to post blogs just like everyone else. It seems that Filipe has big problems with equality and freedom.

Sharon   January 12th, 2010 10:22 am ET

Due to the concept of free speech, all can post blogs on this website. Please understand that nobody is interested in your blogs or your the blogs of your imaginary friend Carlos. But due to free speech, you are entitled to post blogs just like everyone else. It seems that Filipe has a big problem with equality and freedom.

Filipe   January 13th, 2010 1:26 pm ET


Equality, Freedom, problem, --how so ??? Please explain ???

I only expressed my surprise about the CNN policy of posting DIY terrorism details on their website.

But there are numerous times where people have complained about their posts being edited or deleted-– so your opinion of how freedom of speech really works on this blog is quite misguided and naive.

jim   March 27th, 2010 8:11 pm ET

I am very grateful that I have discovered your posts, thanks for all the well done info.

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