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U.S. Probing Al-Qaeda Link To Jet Incident

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said U.S. authorities did not have enough information to put attempted plane bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on a no-fly list.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Obama administration says it’s investigating whether Al-Qaeda was involved in a Christmas Day attempt to blow up a passenger jet.

The Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is charged with attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines jumbo plane as it approached Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.

Asked whether al Qaeda was involved, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told ABC's "This Week" program, "That is now the subject of investigation and it would be inappropriate for me to say and inappropriate to speculate.

"Right now, we have no indication that it is part of anything larger," Napolitano told CNN's "State of the Union."

CNN quoted an unidentified source "with knowledge of the investigation" as saying the suspect carried enough explosive material to destroy the plane had it been detonated.

A U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed media reports that Abdulmutallab had told investigators Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen had given him the device and told him how to detonate it.

In the Christmas Day incident, Abdulmutallab was overpowered by passengers and crew after setting alight an explosive device attached to his body, and was treated for burns at a Michigan hospital.

Republicans appearing on television programs December 27 questioned whether the Obama administration was doing enough to monitor security threats, noting that Abdulmutallab's father had reported concerns about his son to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

"There's much to investigate here. It's amazing to me that an individual like this who was sending out so many signals could end up getting on a plane going to the U.S.," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC.

"Radicalization is alive. It is well. They want to attack the United States," Representative Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told "Fox News Sunday." "I think this administration has downplayed it."

President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, appealed through spokesman Robert Gibbs for Republicans and Democrats to avoid a political fight.

"I hope that everyone will resolve in the new year, to make protecting our nation a nonpartisan issue rather than what normally happens in Washington," Gibbs said on NBC.

Security officials were investigating how Abdulmutallab had been able to get explosive materials onto the plane despite higher security worldwide since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Al-Qaeda was held responsible for those attacks.

The U.S. government created a record of Abdulmutallab last month in its central repository of information of about 550,000 known and suspected international terrorists.

Gibbs told CBS' "Face the Nation" there was not enough information on Abdulmutallab to move him beyond that list.

The U.S. law enforcement official said Abdulmutallab's visa had been issued long before he was added to the database.

Airports and airlines in the United States and around the world have tightened security after the foiled attack.

Peter King, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the system did not work.

"He made it on the plane with explosives and he detonated explosives," King told CBS. "If that had been successful, the plane would have come down and would have had a
Christmas Day massacre with almost 300 people murdered. So this came within probably seconds or inches of working."

An initial FBI analysis found the device used by Abdulmutallab contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, one of the explosives carried by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in his failed attempt to blow up a U.S. passenger jet just before Christmas in 2001, months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The device was a packet of powder and a liquid-filled syringe sewn into the suspect's underwear, media reports said.

A Dutch passenger, Jasper Schuringa, was credited with subduing Abdulmutallab as he was igniting the explosives.

Abdulmutallab started his journey in Nigeria's commercial hub of Lagos, where he boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam before going through another security checkpoint at Schiphol airport, Dutch counter-terrorism agency NCTb has said.