WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday he has ordered a review of the nation's watch list system and of its air safety regulations and has asked his national security team to keep up the pressure on terrorists aiming to attack the U.S.
Obama said U.S. officials are doing everything in their power to ensure Americans are safe in the wake of the Christmas Day attack on a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit.
The president, issuing a statement Monday during his holiday vacation in Honolulu, said U.S. authorities will not rest until they find everyone involved in the attack in Detroit and hold them accountable.
Obama's remarks were his first in public about a 23-year-old Nigerian man's alleged attempt to bring down the airliner.
Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula on Monday claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253, saying the attack was in retaliation for a U.S. operation against the group in Yemen.
In a statement posted on the Internet, the group said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab coordinated with members of the group.
Yemeni forces, helped by U.S. intelligence, carried out two airstrikes against al-Qaida operatives in the country this month. The second one was a day before the attempted bombing of the plane.
The group said the would-be bomber used explosives manufactured by al-Qaida members.
Abdulmutallab reportedly bought his airline ticket before the first strike in Yemen, which came on Dec. 17.
In a statement, the Yemeni Foreign Ministry said Abdulmutallab was in Yemen from early August until early December after receiving a visa to study Arabic in a school in San'a.
Monday's statement said Abdulmutallab had previously studied at the school, indicating it was not his first trip to Yemen.
It said he was granted a Yemeni visa after authorities were reassured that he had "several visas from a number of friendly countries," the statement said. It noted that Abdulmutallab had a valid visa to the United States, which he had visited in the past.
"Authorities are currently investigating who he was in contact with in Yemen and the results of the investigation will be delivered to those concerned with investigating the terror plot in the United States," the ministry said.
Security under scrutiny
In earlier developments, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded that the aviation security system failed when a young man on a watch list with a U.S. visa in his pocket and a powerful explosive hidden on his body was allowed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Video: Anatomy of a terror plot A day after saying the system worked, Napolitano backtracked, saying her words had been taken out of context.
"Our system did not work in this instance," she said on NBC television's "TODAY" show. "No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way."
Billions of dollars have been spent on aviation security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when commercial airliners were hijacked and used as weapons. Much of that money has gone toward training and equipment that some security experts say could have detected the explosive device that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of hiding on his body on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Abdulmutallab has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate the device as the plane approached Detroit.
Abdulmutallab had been wearing a specially made undergarment over his briefs, an FBI official told NBC News. The device burst into flames instead, according to authorities, and he was subdued by passengers. The plane landed safely.
A federal judge in Detroit postponed until Jan. 8 a hearing on a request by the government to obtain a DNA sample from Abdulmutallab. No reason was given.
Harold Demuren, the head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, said Abdulmutallab paid cash on Dec. 16 for the $2,831 round-trip ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit via Amsterdam. He said Abdulmutallab's ticket came from a KLM office in Accra, Ghana.
Demuren said Abdulmutallab checked into his flight with only a small carry-on bag.
On Sunday, Napolitano said, "One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked." On Monday, she said she was referring to the system of notifying other flights as well as law enforcement on the ground about the incident soon after it happened.
The top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee took issue with Napolitano's initial assessment.
Airport security "failed in every respect," Rep. Peter King said Sunday on CBS television's "Face the Nation." "It's not reassuring when the secretary of homeland security says the system worked."
A congressional hearing is planned in January to examine security and screening measures.
Explosives aboard Flight 253
Investigators are piecing together Abdulmutallab's brazen attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Dec. 25. Law enforcement officials say he tucked below his waist a small bag holding his potentially deadly concoction of liquid and powder explosive material.
British officials placed Abdulmutallab's name on a U.K. watch list after he was refused a student visa in May. However, adding him to the list was a matter of routine, not because he was thought to pose a threat, according to a Home Office official. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said police and security services are looking at whether Abdulmutallab was radicalized in Britain.
Abdulmutallab received a degree in engineering and business finance from University College London last year and later applied to re-enter Britain to study at another institution. Johnson said Monday he was refused entry because officials suspected the school was not genuine and they then put his name on the list.
Johnson says that people on the list can transit the U.K. but cannot enter the country.
Officials said he came to the attention of U.S. intelligence last month when his father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, reported to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about his son's increasingly extremist religious views.
Video: Bomb suspect family pledges cooperation In a statement released Monday, Abdulmutallab's family in Nigeria said that after his "disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad," his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies two months ago. The statement says the father then approached foreign security agencies for "their assistance to find and return him home."
The family says: "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."
The statement did not offer any specifics on where Abdulmutallab had been.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the government will investigate its systems for placing suspicious travelers on watch lists and for detecting explosives before passengers board flights.
Both lines of defense were breached in the improbable series of events Christmas Day that spanned three continents and culminated in a struggle and fire aboard a Northwest jet shortly before its safe landing in Detroit.
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