**UPDATE/8:00 p.m. EST**
No prank...the incident aboard that Northwest Flight was (apparently) an attempted terrorist strike.
A senior administration official, traveling with President Obama in Hawaii, has described the event as a possible terrorist attack--unusually strong language for an administration that sometimes describes those events as "man-caused disasters."
In response to the incident, Mr. Obama convened emergency conference calls with his national security team. After those meetings, he ordered the imposition of additional security measures for airline travel.
The event occurred around 2:30 eastern time on Christmas Day. Northwest Airlines Flight 252 was descending into the Detroit airport, in the final stages of a nine-hour flight from Amsterdam. Passengers on and near row 19 on the Airbus A330 jet described seeing a momentary flash of fire and smoke. followed by a struggle.
What they witnessed was 23-year-old Abdul Mudallad, a Nigeran national, attempting to detonate an explosive device or powder. He was quickly subdued by other passengers and the cabin crew, who restrained him until the jet landed. According to ABC News, Mudallad later told federal authorities that he was trying to detonate an explosive device, given to him by Al Qaida in Yemen.
New York Congressman Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, confirmed that Mudallad was in possession of a "sophisticated" and potentially devastating device. "This was not a firecracker," he told The Wall Street Journal. Mr. King would not divulge additional details about the explosive device. He also reported that Mudallad's name was not on various terrorist watch lists, but turned up "hot" in other databases maintained by intelligence officials.
The question, of course, is how Mudallad got past security, and almost detonated the device on board the Northwest Flight. Based on what we know right now, it seems likely that Al Qaida has new explosive materials that can defeat existing security measures. There is also the possibility that Mudallad had assistance in getting the device or materials on the aircraft.
We're also a bit puzzled about Delta's initial claim that the Nigerian man tried to detonate firecrackers on the jet, and not a bomb. But, as we've seen in the past, the airlines have a history of down-playing potential terrorist incidents.
It's been a while since we bestowed one of our "Idiot" awards, but this one was too easy--and too irresistible--to pass up. The first two paragraphs of this CNN report sum it up well:
A passenger ignited fireworks Friday at the end of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, a Delta Air Lines spokeswoman said.
The passenger was immediately subdued, according to Susan Elliott, spokeswoman for Delta, Northwest's parent company. The incident resulted in some minor injuries, Elliott said.
Terrorists will also take note; security at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport obviously has a few holes.
ADDENDUM: Later reports indicate more serious--and sinister--motives. Sources tell ABC News that the man was attempting to detonate some sort of white powder. Federal officials who spoke with reporter Richard Esposito says the man (who hails from Nigeria) was directed to set off a small explosive device by Al Qaida. The suspect flew to The Netherlands from Nigeria before catching the Northwest flight to Detroit.
Making matters worse, the Nigerian man was already on the U.S. government's "no fly" list, but he still managed to board that NWA jet. Looks like Dutch security officials aren't the only ones with some explaining to do.