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Outcome investigation into Schiphol-Detroit flight

Government.nl

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 any particulars.

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 December.

 

Flight

 

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.

 

Explosive

 

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).
 

Professional approach


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.
 

Investigation

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.

 

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