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Security Heightened At U.S. Airports After 'Bomb Attack'

An Airbus A-330 (file photo)

An Airbus A-330 (file photo)

Security measures have been stepped up at U.S. airports after a Nigerian man with suspected Al-Qaeda links allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner in an apparent Christmas Day terrorist attack.

The incident, described by the U.S. authorities as a failed bomb attack, took place on an airliner arriving in Detroit from Amsterdam with 278 passengers and 11 crew members on board.

The Nigerian passenger had reportedly tried to light what's being described as an explosive device as the plane approached Detroit.

Witnesses say other passengers subdued the suspect, who suffered serious burn injures. No one else was seriously hurt among passengers and crew members.

"What we heard in the beginning was a bang, it sounded at first like a balloon being popped and then a minute later there was a lady shouting back and she was saying things like 'What are you doing, what are you doing?'" one witness said.

"And then we looked back and there was a struggle, I think about five rows back on the left of where we were sitting and we saw fumes and fire coming out. And there was another man who jumped at the assailant I think, the guy who was responsible," he continued.

"I was trying to figure out why aren't they bringing an extinguisher, a fire extinguisher and they eventually did about a minute later and they managed to put out the fire and the fumes. There was a lot of panic within the three or four minutes during the event."

Another passenger said the suspect "was severely burnt. His entire leg was burnt. They required a fire extinguisher as well as water to put it out."

Al-Qaeda Connection

The man, identified as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, has reportedly told police investigators he was acting on behalf of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and that he had received the explosives in Yemen.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity told news agencies that Mutallab claimed he has been instructed by Al-Qaeda to blow up the plane on U.S. soil.

Officials said the claim could not be verified immediately.

Some U.S. and Dutch media reports said Mutallab, who is in his 20s, was a student at University College London.

Mutallab's name reportedly was in a U.S. intelligence database indicating "a significant terrorist connection."

However, it was not placed on so-called "watch lists" or "no-fly" lists.

The White House said President Barack Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, was monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates.

U.S. officials said there would be increased security measures for both domestic and international flights at U.S. airports.

Measures include heightened screening, more bomb-sniffing dogs and behavioral-detection specialists, as well as unspecified less visible precautions.

The National Coordinator for Counterterrorism in The Hague also said U.S. authorities had asked for additional security measures on all flights to the United States for an indefinite period.

compiled from agency reports