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Detroit flight chosen at random, House panels told

Thu., Jan. 14, 2010

Intelligence officials briefing Congress

WASHINGTON – The man accused of trying to blow up Flight 253 on Dec. 25 apparently selected the Detroit-bound flight at random, members of Congress briefed by Obama administration intelligence officials said Wednesday.

“There’s no Detroit connection that we’re aware of,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said after a closed-door meeting with administration officials.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said she got the same message in another briefing, this one for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, saying Detroit “was not specifically targeted.”

Ever since the alleged Christmas Day bombing attempt, questions have been raised why Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chose to fly to Detroit from Amsterdam after a connecting flight from Lagos, Nigeria. But as intelligence briefings on the incident got under way with the House back in session in Washington, Obama administration officials were being asked about how the 23-year-old Nigerian could have boarded a U.S.-bound flight when his father had reported to American officials in Nigeria that his son could pose a threat.

Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of attempting to detonate explosives he brought onto the aircraft as it descended into Metro Airport. Others on the plane subdued him and he and two others suffered burns. The aircraft landed safely.

Thompson and others said their focus is on making sure it doesn’t happen again. And while President Barack Obama tried to assure the nation last week that steps had been taken to protect against another intelligence failure, Thompson said he’s waiting to see what ongoing reviews produce as well as proposals to add security and screening measures at airports internationally and domestically.

“It remains to be seen if anything has substantively changed,” he said.

For instance, though the Obama administration has apparently reviewed its various watch lists of potential terrorists and added names to the roster of those prohibited from entering the country, it remained unclear to members of Congress where the bar had been set.

“They don’t want to make announcements until they feel they’ve made the changes and they’re getting it right,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat.

Because Wednesday’s briefings were classified, members of Congress largely declined to discuss the substance of what they heard.

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