Outcome investigation into Schiphol-Detroit
The preparation of the failed attack against flight
Amsterdam-Detroit was fairly professional, but its execution was amateurish. The
Minister of Justice had decided to immediately deploy the body scanner at
Schiphol on flights to the US.
This is evident from a preliminary
investigation conducted by the Dutch authorities. The explosive used is not easy
to make and its production is not without risk. In addition, the modus operandi
and explosive are similar to earlier attacks.
The investigation also shows that the
suspect, Oman al-F., held a valid visa for travelling to the United States. The
passenger list submitted prior to the flight did not give the US reason to
demand extra security measures. The suspect did not leave the customs area
during his transfer at Schiphol and was again subjected to a metal detection
check in customs area in accordance with protocol. This check did not present
The Minister of Justice had decided in the mean time, in close consultation with
the American authorities, to immediately deploy the body scanner in security
procedures at Schiphol on flights to the United States.
This is written by Minister Ter Horst (Minister of Justice ad interim in the
absence of Minister Hirsch Ballin) in a letter to the Lower House concerning the
initial findings of the investigations that were performed in the Netherlands
following the attack against the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (US) on 25
The suspect, who attempted to crash an
airplane by using explosives on 25 December, left Lagos, Nigeria on 24 December
2009 on flight KL 0588 to Schiphol. This flight arrived on 25 December 2009 at
5:37 a.m. Dutch time (CET). The person involved left Schiphol at 8:55 a.m. (CET)
that day on flight NW 253 to Detroit (US) with the advance approval of the
American authorities. Boarding started at 6:40 a.m. This transfer route is
customary for Nigerians flying to the United States. The person involved was in
the possession of a return ticket purchased in Accra (Ghana).
All airline companies that fly from, to or via the United States are required to
provide the details of all passengers and crew to the American authorities prior
to departure. In the present case, the American authorities granted the airline
company permission to transport the person involved without demanding extra
security measures. No suspicious matters which would give reason to classify the
person involved as a high-risk passenger were identified during the security
check. He held a valid visa for the United States. The person involved spent the
customary transfer time (several hours) in the international lounge at the
airport. The suspect was not known to the Dutch authorities.
It can be reported, on the basis of
information currently available, that the improvised explosive device was
located on the body of the person involved, at such a place that it would not be
found during a search either. The main component of the explosive was 80 grams
of pentaerythritoltetranitrate (PETN, also referred to as 'pentrite'). Pentrite
is a very powerful conventional explosive, which is not easy to produce
yourself, nor is its production without risk. The remainder of a syringe
containing chemicals was also found. It was presumably intended to function as a
detonator. The person involved allegedly spent considerable time in the lavatory
of the airplane prior to the incident, perhaps to compile the loose components
into an 'Improvised Explosive Device' (IED).
The approach in this case shows - despite the failure of the attack - a fairly
professional approach, comparable to earlier attempted attacks against civil
aviation. Earlier examples are the so-called 'shoe bomber', who tried to
detonate an improvised explosive, pentrite in his shoe with TATP as detonator,
aboard an airplane on 23 December 2001, and the attacks prevented in 2006, which
were directed against transatlantic flights and deployed liquid explosives,
during which attacks the explosives were to be smuggled aboard in lemonade
bottles in the hand luggage. The most recent example of a similar attack is that
against a Saudi prince in August 2009. The perpetrator was killed during the
attack. The prince sustained minor injuries during the attack.
The Royal Military Constabulary (Kmar) started an investigation into the
circumstances of the attack immediately after it took place. The Royal Military
Constabulary, assisted by the National Crime Squad, has, under responsibility of
the Public Prosecution Service (OM), instituted an investigation into possible
crimes, committed within the territory of the Netherlands (including the KLM
airplane that brought the person involved from Lagos to Schiphol). It concerns
participation in a terrorist organisation and performing preparatory acts for a
crime of terrorism, by flying to Schiphol with a Dutch airplane, to reside at
the Schiphol airport, and to transfer to perpetrate the attack on the flight
from Schiphol to Detroit.
The investigation also focuses on the course of affairs surrounding the
airport's security measures. The investigation focuses - partly on the basis of
flight data and camera images - on these activities and any contacts the person
involved may have had during the transit phase at Schiphol, and during the
flight by KLM plane that preceded it. Where necessary, mutual requests for legal
assistance will be exchanged between the Netherlands and the United States.
The incident in Detroit should be seen in isolation from the scaling down of the
Terrorist Threat Assessment Netherlands (DTN) to 'limited' earlier this month.
The event does not have any consequences for this level either. This scaling
down did not have direct consequences for specific security measures, such as
those in place at Schiphol. The incident of 25 December 2009 colours the
conceivability of an attack in the Airports sector and therefore justifies the
current alert level for this sector, as well as the security measures that arise
from it. The extra measures that have been implemented at Schiphol as a result
of the most recent incident relate only to flights to or over the United States.
The Minister of Justice has decided, in close consultation with the American
authorities, to immediately deploy the security scanner. This would
significantly increase the chance of detecting such matters. In addition, the
structural deployment of security scanners is advocated in a European context at
the request of the Netherlands.