On December 25, 2009, a Nigerian student attempted to ignite a mixture of powder and liquid on a Northwest Airlines flight landing in Detroit, Michigan. Passengers helped to stop the suspect from carrying out his mission after the device failed to fully detonate, marking the 28th foiled terror plot against the United States since 9/11.
This attempted plot is an example of how terrorists continue in their attempts to harm Americans. But it also illustrates the need to work with international partners on countering terrorism, while defending the intelligence and law enforcement tools that work inside the U.S. to disrupt plots, as well as the importance of going after overseas terrorist sanctuaries to stop terrorists from using these locations as a staging ground for operations.
December 25, 2009
The individual involved in the plot, believed by media accounts to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was a 23 year old engineering student living in London. He had boarded a plane from Nigeria to Amsterdam, and was flying from Amsterdam to the United States when he attempted to detonate a device as the plane began to land. The device failed to detonate, and passengers move quickly to stop the passenger from trying again, leading to his arrest by U.S. authorities.
Media accounts following the plot indicate that Abdulmutallab is believed to be involved with al Qaeda.
28 Plots Foiled
This attack marks 28 terror plots that have been foiled since 9/11. This success has been enjoyed for a variety of reasons. At times, success has been the product of sheer luck, and in other instances, Americans themselves have helped stop the attack by putting their own lives on the line. Furthermore, U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism, including operations in Afghanistan, have helped to weed out terrorist sanctuaries before they can act to organize attacks. Finally, counterterrorism tools put in place since 9/11 have helped to lead the way inside the United States towards stopping terrorists from operating on U.S. soil. Continuing this success will require the U.S. to be diligent in these efforts.
Specifically, the U.S. should:
- Support Counterterrorism Tools. Tools such as the PATRIOT Act, which modernizes intelligence and legal authorities to better stop modern terrorists, and the Terrorist Watch List, have helped to stop attacks similar to the one today. Congress and DHS should support continuance of these authorities.
- Work with our International Partners. Yesterday’s plot was as much about the U.S. as it was other international partners. Abdulmutallab lived in London, where U.K. authorities are helping to investigate. His flight had departed from Amsterdam with passengers coming from Nigeria. And if found to be a member of al Qaeda he would be directly connected to an international terrorist network. The global ramifications of this plot demonstrate the need for the U.S. to work closely with its international partners on terrorism. Through such programs as DHS assistance programs, which help other countries improve their security practices, and the Visa Waiver Program which encourages information sharing among member countries, DHS and Congress should support international security cooperation.
- Continue Efforts to Stop Overseas Sanctuaries. Abdulmutallab’s likely association with al Qaeda demonstrates that this organization, along with other international terrorist organizations continue to operate worldwide. It is vital that the U.S. continues to work in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia to stop these terrorist organizations from staging operations overseas. Often this occurs in countries that do not have the resources and/or political will to stop this framework from expanding, which makes the need for U.S. operations all the more important.
Today’s failed plot will not be in the last terrorist plot against the United States. Continuing to organize and mobilize against these individuals, both inside the United States, and in conjunction with our international partners is the best way to stop attacks in the future.