THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands announced today it will immediately begin using full body scanners for flights heading to the United States, issuing a report that called the failed Christmas Day airline bombing a “professional” terror attack.
“It is not exaggerating to say the world has escaped a disaster,” Interior Minister Guusje Ter Horst told a news conference.
She said the U.S. had not wanted these scanners to be used previously because of privacy concerns but said the Obama administration in Washington now agreed that “all possible measures will be used on flights to the U.S.”
Officials say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, managed to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport carrying undetected explosives but failed to detonate them. The plane was carrying over 300 people.
In its preliminary report, the Dutch government called the plan to blow up the Detroit-bound aircraft “professional” but said its execution was “amateurish.”
Abdulmutallab arrived in Amsterdam on Friday from Lagos, Nigeria on a KLM flight. After a layover of less than three hours, he passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metal detector, and headed to the Northwest flight.
Ter Horst said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the Northwest aircraft toilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals. She said the explosives appeared to have been professionally prepared and had been given to Abdulmutallab, but did not elaborate.
“The approach in this case shows — despite the failure of the attack — a fairly professional approach,” a summary of the investigation said. “Pentrite is a very powerful conventional explosive, which is not easy to produce yourself, nor is its production without risk.”
“If you want to detonate it, you have to do that another way than he did. That is why we talk about amateurism,” Ter Horst said.
Abdulmutallab was carrying a valid Nigerian passport and had a valid U.S. visa, the Dutch said. His name also did not appear on any Dutch list of terror suspects.
“No suspicious matters which would give reason to classify the person involved as a high-risk passenger were identified during the security check,” Ter Horst said.
Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy an aircraft, is being held at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol has 15 body scanners, but their use has been limited because of privacy objections that they display the contours of the passenger’s body. Neither the European Union nor the U.S. have approved the routine use of the scanners at European airports.
New software, however, eliminates that problem by projecting a stylized image onto a computer screen, highlighting the area of the body where objects are concealed in pockets or under the clothing and alerting security guards.
At least two scanners have been experimentally using that software since late November and the Dutch said those will be put into use immediately. All other scanners will be upgraded within three weeks so they can be used on flights to the United States.
“Our view now is that the use of millimeter wave scanners would certainly have helped detect that he had something on his body, but you can never give 100 percent guarantees,” Ter Horst said.