A Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was charged on Saturday with trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on a flight to Detroit on Christmas day using a high explosive, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Abdulmutallab was accused of trying to ignite an explosive device aboard Northwest flight 253 as it approached Detroit's airport from Amsterdam with 290 passengers and crew. He was immediately subdued by those aboard the airliner.
"Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
He left open the possibility that others were involved in the plot, amid speculation that Abdulmutallab had been working for or had ties to al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11, 2001 airliner attacks.
"We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously, and we will use all measures available to our government to ensure that anyone responsible for this attempted attack is brought to justice," Holder said.
Based on interviews with passengers and crew, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom on the plane for about 20 minutes and then returned to his seat pulling a blanket over himself and stating that his stomach was upset, according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
Passengers heard popping noises that sounded like firecrackers and smelled an odor, and some noticed that Abdulmutallab's trousers and the airplane wall were on fire, it said.
He was subdued and restrained by the passengers and crew, and when asked what he had in his pocket, Abdulmutallab said an "explosive device", according to the affidavit. A melted syringe was also recovered from near his seat, it said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's preliminary analysis showed that he tried to ignite pentaerythritol, considered a highly explosive material, the Justice Department said.