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Man Tries to Blow Up Airliner

Aired December 26, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Christmas flight terror -- a 23-year-old Nigerian man is now charged with trying to destroy an American airliner. Who is he? How could he get on a plane with a high explosive? Did he have help from any organized group?

And were his father's warnings about his radicalized behavior weeks ago ignored by authorities? Witnesses will tell us what they saw onboard and passengers prevented what might have been a disaster.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we were about to land --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We smelled a bunch of smoke, and we saw fumes and there was a flame fire coming out.


KING: All next on a very special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."

Drew griffin was right. We are in Los Angeles. And good evening. There are major developments regarding the attempted terror attack on a commercial airline yesterday and major questions tonight surrounding the near disaster.

Here to walk us through this incredible turn of events in the last 24 hours is Martin Savidge who is at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and bundled up on a cold night in Michigan. Martin, I know when a story breaks like this, there are so many things that can happen, and you are wrong sometimes and right sometimes because you're gathering on the fly.

So let's go back to the beginning. What do we know-know? What happened? What do we know?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is what I think. I think many people don't realize how dramatically their lives in the air as the flying public are going to change as a result of what happened in this skies over Detroit 33 hours ago.

Let me walk you back. Let me take you there. It is shortly before noon Christmas Day. You are onboard Northwest Airline flight 253, it's on final approach coming in after flying nine hours from Amsterdam into Detroit. Almost down on the ground when passengers report hearing popping noises, they see flashes of lights. Somebody think maybe a passenger set off fireworks. It's much more sinister than that.

One of the passengers onboard has set off an explosive device, trying to blow that airliner out of the sky. It is reportedly a 23- year-old Nigerian national.

Fortunately for the passengers and crew, the device didn't go off as effectively as the man hoped. Instead of blowing the plane up, it starts a fire and causes chaos. But, again, because of the quick reaction of the passengers onboard and the professionalism of the crew, the flames are put out, the man is subdued, the plane lands safely, he is taken into custody.

All right, fast forward 24 hours, today -- suddenly a very bizarre kind of court appearance where you have the 23-year-old suspect wheeled not into a courtroom but into a conference room at the hospital where he is recovering from third-degree burns that he sustained while trying to carry out the terrorist attack.

There you have federal authorities questioning him and saying, first of all, how do you feel? He says "I feel a lot better than I did yesterday." He is speaking almost perfect English. He is apparently very nonplussed, very casual.

The charges are read against him. He's charged with attempting to blow up an airliner and for carrying an explosive device on board an aircraft. He could get 20 years, but those are just the initial charges. More are likely to come.

Then he is asked, do you have an attorney? He says, "No I don't." They say we'll provide one for you.

The simple proceedings end there. The changes for the flying public only begin.

Across the country already new security measures are in effect. It will slow your progress as you go through the terminal. For international passengers flying to the United States -- major changes, major scrutiny of their baggage, and when they are on the plane the last hour of the flight they are not allowed to leave their seats or get up for any reason, can't retrieve any bags, nothing on their lap, not a pillow, not a blanket.

Their lives, millions of lives for passengers change because of what happened here in the skies over Detroit about 33 hours ago -- Larry.

KING: There has been no Christmas like this one.

All right, Jeanne Meserve, are we safe to assume -- Jeanne Meserve is our CNN Homeland Security correspondent -- safe to assume that this was a suicide mission, and if so, why is he waiting until it lands? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Those are questions -- some of those questions we are still looking at. They are calling this an "attempted terrorist event." Apparently he was going to commit suicide and allegedly was going to take the rest of the plane down with him.

As to why he was doing it over land as opposed to somewhere else, we haven't heard anything definitive for investigators yet. There is a lot of speculation about what it could be.

It could have been that he was looking to maximize damage on the ground. Also perhaps it would be easy to claim responsibility if the wreckage was found as opposed to being lost in the ocean, let's say.

So those are theories floating around, but investigators are being very tightlipped at this point in time, Larry.

KING: How do we know, Jeanne, that it wasn't -- how do we know- know that it wasn't just this sick individual?

MESERVE: Well, we don't know-know that for sure. And that is, of course, what they are checking out. They are looking at computers, cell phones, any communications this guy might have had that might have been intercepted, trying to figure out, put all the pieces together.

But I talked to a former government official familiar with aviation security, and certainly he's see indications here that this was something this guy did not do on his own.

First of all, he had this PETN, which is a very volatile and very dangerous explosive. He knew where to sit on that airplane to maximize the damage. He was over the fuel tanks. He was near the skin of the plane where the damage would have been the greatest.

He had a cover story. He went to the bathroom for about 20 minutes according to the affidavit and then came back to his seat saying he had a stomach ache. He covered himself with a blanket. Then the explosions began.

This former officials is saying that he had that cover story, that he knew to use the blanket, that he spent time in the bathroom doing we are not quite sure whether he might have been mixing something up in there or praying or what he might have been doing, but all of those things this individual believes point to the fact that he may not have been acting on his own, that somewhere, somehow, he got some kind of instruction.

Of course they are going to be trying to figure that out and where he got that PETN.

KING: Nic Robertson is in central London, and Nic is outside the suspect's last known address in London. He was flying for Amsterdam, but his last known address was London. Nic, what are the authorities looking for in this building? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Larry, I think the first thing they were looking for when they went in was anything that might link the suspect to an ongoing terror plot involving other people.

What's happened overnight here is the police have suspended the operation. They have put this tape up around the area. Police officers are securing the building. They say they will continue the search in the morning.

However, the fact they suspended it does seem to indicate they don't think they are finding information that leads them to believe there is an ongoing terror plot. In that circumstance one could imagine a lot more police here sifting through the evidence, working through the night, Larry.

KING: Drew Griffin, who has been anchoring this all afternoon and will continue after this show goes off doing some more anchoring, our CNN investigative correspondent. What hits you the most about this, Drew? Is this something to cause panic?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Well, I don't think you can panic, but I don't think anybody is going to feel good about what happened. Even though this was averted, Larry, it was averted because of a bunch of passengers and crew jumped up and took matters in their own hands.

What stands out the most to me is that the screening procedures this guy went through in Amsterdam are almost identical of the screening procedures we go through in Los Angeles, or Chicago, or here in Atlanta, meaning that this kind of device, whatever it was, could easily get through security at any major airport.

And that has got to be very, very troubling, specifically for TSA officials today.

KING: Do we know, Drew, why he was in Amsterdam?

GRIFFIN: We just know that he was flying from Lagos, Nigeria to Amsterdam on a connecting flight. He had about a three-hour layover there, Larry.

And one of the passengers said they did notice this man pacing. They didn't say pacing oddly, but pacing during that layover in Amsterdam, but that wasn't enough to alert authorities to do any further screening, apparently.

KING: We'll pick up right up with this panel in a couple of moments.

What is President Obama's reaction to this yesterday and today? CNN's senior White House correspondent Ed Henry will tell us right after the break.


KING: We'll be right back with the panel.

President Obama is in vacation in Hawaii. What type of briefings has he being getting about the terror incident and the implications? CNN's senior White House correspondent Ed Henry joins us now with some answers. What is he saying and getting?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Larry, it's interesting. Behind the scenes this president is getting a lot of information. It started very early this morning, about 6:20 Hawaii time today, that's five hours back from the east coast of the United States.

The president got a secured briefing from a couple of his top aides, giving him the latest of this investigation, as you've been hearing from Drew and Dean, getting a lot of that inside information.

The president yesterday ordered the security officials beef up security at airports around the country. So he has been listening to these briefings, he has been acting.

But one thing he has not done is come out publicly and said anything. There has been some criticism now, some Republicans like Congressman Peter King of New York saying the president should be out there, should be reassuring the public.

I put that to a senior administration official, and he said, look, this is not this president's style. This is a sort of contrast to former President Bush, who whenever there was a terrorist incident like this, President Bush would be out there front and center.

They say this president has a different style. He was out golfing today, and he feels he can forward with his vacation, get the briefings in private, let others handle the public side of this investigation.

His Homeland Security secretary is going tomorrow on some of the Sunday talk shows, but he believes he should stay behind the scenes -- Larry.

KING: So Ed, quickly, no plan for him to cut that vacation short?

HENRY: No. We're getting no indications at all. He is planning to stay here in fact a couple of days past New Year's, Larry.

KING: Jeanne Meserve, you wanted to add something?

MESERVE: Yes. I wanted to pick up on Drew Griffin's point about the screening missing this. There are some screening technologies in place at security checkpoints that should have picked up PETN if he had gone through those machines.

There is an explosive swab test. If you are pulled aside for secondary screening you have probably seen that. They take a piece of fabric and run it over your carryon bags. That could have caught it.

If there had been a body scan that might have shown something concealed on his body, even, I'm told, if it was in the crotch area. Dogs might have picked this up.

There used to be puffer machines in the airport that put blasts of air over you and would pick up traces of explosives. But those have been largely phased out at this point in time because there was problems with maintenance.

The issue apparently was that he only went through an x-ray machine which would only pick up metal not PETN. We know he was not on the no-fly list. And he must not have been on the selectee list, because if he had been on that he would have gotten the explosive swab screening.

KING: Martin, the suspect's father, a recently retired chairman of one of Nigeria's premier banks, reportedly contacted a lot of security agencies and the American embassy several months ago expressing concern about his son. That father comes from the Web site of the first bank of Nigeria, the bank he retired from.

What do we know about his reporting and involvement, Martin?

SAVIDGE: He obviously saw that his son was becoming more and more motivated by radical ideas, and he grew greatly concerned about that, so much so he contacted American authorities and said I'm worried about my son and what he may do next.

And it appears authorities heard that. American officials dually noted it. He was put on an observation list. But that is not strong enough evidence to say he is on a no-fly list. So they were alerted but there was no action that was taken.

KING: Nic, is this a big story in England?

ROBERTSON: It is, Larry, because it does appear that this is where the young man was radicalized. It has happened at universities here in London before to Muslim students. There are radicalizers that radicalize some of the students.

And we know that because when he studied here between 2005 and 2008, studying mechanical engineering, when he finished that course his family said that he asked to go to a university in Saudi Arabia or Cairo, Egypt. They said they were worried because he was making contact here with suspicious people.

At that stage they were already getting worried about his radicalization. So it is going to cause interest.

But again, there is another point here that is interesting, Larry, and that is the very same summer when his parents were getting worried, that very same summer he got form the U.S. embassy here in London a multiple entry visa for return visits over a number of years to go in and out of the United States. So there are inconsistencies here, too.

KING: One thing more quickly with Drew Griffin who will follow this program with more coverage live around the clock as we do it at CNN. Drew, do you know what he has been officially charged with?

GRIFFIN: Yes. Larry, I have the charging papers. It is two counts here. I will try to get them exactly right for you. He was charged -- gee whiz, Larry. You would have to ask me that one question. Let's bring in Jeanne Meserve, because she has been following that.

KING: I got to get a break, so Jeanne, go ahead.

MERSERVE: The second one is bringing a destructive device on an airplane. The first one indeed attempting to destroy a Northwest Airlines plane.

KING: We thank the panel. Drew Griffin will be on immediately following this program with more coverage.

We are going to hear from the man who helped subdue the suspect. CNN's exclusive interview in 60 seconds.


KING: A Dutch tourist named Jasper Schuringa is being hailed as one of the heroes of Northwest Airlines flight 253. By the way, you see Delta on the plane. Delta bought out Northwest.

Fearing the passenger a few rows from him was trying to blow up the plane, Jasper risked his life to subdue the suspect. He spoke exclusively to CNN several hours ago. Here is some of what he said.


JASPER SCHURINGA, PASSENGER WHO TACKLED TERROR SUSPECT: Basically, I reacted on the bang. And then suddenly there was smoke in the cabin. So people were screaming, "fire, fire!" And the first thing we all did is check to where the fire was. Then I saw the suspect on the seat.

I was on the right side of the plane. The suspect was on the left. So there were quite some seats in between.

So when I saw that suspect, he was getting on fire, and I freaked, of course. And without any agitation, I just jumped over all the seats. And I just jumped to the suspect, because I was thinking, like, he's trying to blow up the plane.

And so I was trying to search his body for any explosives. Then I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking out of him, and I tried to put out the fire.

And then when I did that, I was also restraining the suspect. And then the fire started beneath his seat. So with my hands and everything -- you can see it's a little burned up -- I put out the fire.

And then other passengers helped me, as well. Of course I was screaming for water, water, because we had fire in a plane is not that good, of course.

And so -- but then the fire was actually getting a little worse because what I didn't extinguish the fire. So I grabbed the suspect out of the seat because if he was wearing any more explosives it would be very dangerous because he was almost on fire.

And when I grabbed him from the seats, the chemical came and came with fire extinguishers. And they got it clear of all the flames. And just to be sure, I grabbed him with another attendant and we took him to first class and we stripped him and detained him with handcuffs and made sure he had no more weapons or bombs on him.


KING: Are you afraid to fly now or not? Go to our blog and tell us, More after this.


KING: Our next panel in Washington, Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, bestselling author. His books include "Holy War, Inc." and 'The Usama bin Laden I Know," Frances Townsend, CNN's National Security contributor. She served as chief anti-terrorism and Homeland Security adviser for President George W. Bush.

In Toronto is Eric Margolis, journalist and author of "American Raj, America and the Muslim World." And here in Los Angeles Harry Humphries, counterterrorism expert, founder and president of the Global Studies Group and a former Navy Seal.

Peter Bergen, what is Yemen connection?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: By the suspect's entering a camp, he received the device in Yemen. Yemen is probably arguably the second most important place in the world for Al Qaeda, a substantial Al Qaeda presence there. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the name of the group.

We have seen a connection to Yemen in the Ft. Hood shooting with the American-Yemeni cleric who went on Al Jazeera very recently to explain that Major Hasan, the lead suspect in the Ft. Hood shooting had actually asked him if it was OK to kill fellow soldiers. And so we have seen that Yemen is sort of a hot bed of militancy.

KING: Frances, he, the suspect, is claiming ties to Al Qaeda and talking a lot. What do you make of that?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That he is talking about is good news. But the real test will be what can investigators and intelligence officials corroborate?

As Peter mentioned, the terrorist ties back to Yemen are extensive and long between Al Qaeda's affiliation with operatives there. Remember, Larry, our consulate in Saudi Arabia was attacked based on guns and people that came over that border. And recently the head of the internal security service in Saudi Arabia -- there was an assassination attempt against him, again, emanating out of Yemen.

Our embassy there has been attacked more than twice, and our security personnel and our diplomats there are often targeted by Al Qaeda. So we have a long history of counterterrorism problems emanating out of Yemen, and this is only the most recent.

KING: Eric Margolis, the suspect is upper middle class, a prominent Nigerian banker family. How typical is that?

ERIC MARGOLIS, JOURNALIST: Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more typical. I have seen cases from Morocco all the way to Indonesia of young, medium, or well-educated young Muslims who are linked by one thing, and that is anger or fury over the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and also incited by messages either from radical Islamist preachers or Al Qaeda's messages.

They are not really members of the Al Qaeda organization even though some may claim to be. But they are inspired by its philosophy. And it is very dangerous. It is spreading rapidly. We even had cases in Toronto, in England, in Spain, in France. I think we can expect more.

KING: All right, Harry Humphries, the preliminary FBI analysis found the device contained an explosive known as PETN. What is that?

HARRY HUMPHRIES, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: PETN is an actual German explosive developed around the First World War. It doesn't detonate. It burns very rapidly. It is used as a basic explosive for a detonating cord. It is also used as a booster in many high-level military explosives.

KING: If it had gone off inside that plane successfully, what would have happened?

HUMPHRIES: I understand there was 80 grams of explosives. If the detonator, OK, in fact, was close enough...

KING: The button?

HUMPHRIES: Well, the device that detonates, the PETN would have penetrated the skin, and certainly because he was sitting over one of the fuel tanks in the aircraft, the fuel in the aircraft would have accelerated.

KING: Kill the whole plane?

HUMPHRIES: Absolutely.

KING: Why do you think he was doing it on the ground not in the air?

HUMPHRIES: He wasn't doing it on the ground, he was approaching.

KING: Why not at 35,000 feet?

HUMPHRIES: There are several schools of thought. One, he was fighting with himself mentally and as he approached the final line he had to finally go with the trigger, or he wanted to be close enough to the airport or a landing area where we would have seen clearly that it was, in fact, an explosion. It wasn't something lost over the Atlantic Ocean.

KING: Make a statement.


KING: We'll be back with more right after this.


KING: Peter Bergen, how, if anything, what, if anything, surprises you the most about this incident?

BERGEN: Well, it is not very surprising, but I think, it does say something about al Qaeda's modus operandi. Which is the commercial aviation is the hardest target in the world right now and yet this guy almost brought this plane down out of the sky. And that is, you know, years and years after 9/11. We have seen al Qaeda try to do this going back in the mid '90s where operation -- they successfully detonated a bomb on a plane in Asia killing a Japanese businessman. Ascending a bomb on a plane is something it has been in the al Qaeda playbook now for a decade and a half.

So, this is not a new thing at all. But the fact this guy was almost able to almost pull this off, you know, that is pretty surprising. But it is part of a pattern. We saw this in summer of 2006 with the reason you can't bring liquids on a plane because of the liquid explosive plan to detonate bomb on seven American Canadian Airlines leaving Detroit. If that plan has succeeded, over1,500 would be dead, mostly Americans and Canadians in the Atlantic. If this plan has succeeded, it would have killed, you know, almost 300 people.

KING: Frances, his father is warning people. How does he get aboard that plane?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, that is one of the things I suspect the Congressional Overseers here in United States will be asking the department of homeland security and intelligence and law enforcement officials. That is a good sign Larry. We have to be clear with our viewers that the notion that this guy's father reported his radicalization and tried to alert people is a good sign. We also saw that recently in Northern Virginia where the families of five Pakistani young men who disappeared, they also reported that to the FBI. It turns out, they were arrested in Pakistan.

In Saudi Arabia there is a program by the ministry of the interior to encourage families to report disappearances and radicalization of young men there. This is an important tipping program so that law enforcement and intelligence officials know who to look for, know who to target. The question will be, what happened to that information when the father first, can we confirm he did, in fact, report him missing and radicalized to u.s. security officials or the u.s. embassy in Lagos. Two, if they got that information what did they do with it? Often times, just the mere fact of radicalization might not have been enough to put the connection with, he was a threat to aviation. But he should have tipped people that he should have been a selectee as team reserved explains, so that he should have gotten special scrutiny if he tried to board an aircraft.

KING: Eric Margolis, frankly, how do you win the war on terrorism? Isn't a terrorist born right now today?

MARGOLIS: Well, I think it is wrong to call it a war on terrorism. It is a police action against terrorism. It is not a war that you can really win, and as long as the U.S. is deeply involved in the affairs of the third world particularly, we are going to face attacks and terrorism. Look, I think, this event in Detroit is the opening salvo of deeper U.S. involvement in Yemen, as Peter mentioned in the beginning. We have U.S. Special Forces now, I believed the U.S. aircraft involved in combat operations in Yemen with a three- or four-ways civil war there, with the Saudis involved against the Yemenis, Shiites against the Sunnis. Yemen is fast becoming the Afghanistan of the Arabian Peninsula. And we are right there entering into this. So, as long as we do this, we are exposing ourselves. We need better security as they found in Europe. They have been facing this problem for a lot longer particularly in France. We have tight security but you just have to grit your teeth and bared it, you know, one of Osama bin Laden's objectives is to give us in the United States a national nervous breakdown. And we must not let him do this by overreacting to these events however ugly and nasty they are.

KING: Harry, how do you get PETN?

HUMPHRIES: Well, PETN is a military explosive. So, it has to be derived through some sort of a group or agency that has the strength to...

KING: Al Qaeda could get it?

HARRY: Al Qaeda. It is clearly a strong indicator that this guy definitely had support probably from an al Qaeda type franchise or al Qaeda.

KING: How does he get through security?

HUMPHRIES: Well, look at the path that this guy took. He first got aboard on aircraft, the KLM aircraft in Lagos, Nigeria. That is his first screening point. Then he went to Amsterdam. And then was -- I understand he was held in a sanitized area, in other words an area that would segregate him from the general population of the airport because he is a traveler transiting to another transatlantic flight. OK, no screening. He is being held in this sanitized area. And now from there to Detroit. So, what we're talking about is a possibility now, I'm saying a possibility, that the only screening this guy had was Lagos, Nigeria. Give me a break, OK. If he did, in fact, get screened in a ...

KING: Not screened in Amsterdam?

HUMPHRIES: Well, if he was screened in Amsterdam, the screening was typical to what we do today. Certainly he did not have what we call whole body image screening which of course, is the only answer to this problem.

KING: Back with more after this.



RICHELLE KEEPMAN, PASSENGER NORTHWEST FLIGHT 253: We were in the back of the plane and all of a sudden heard some screams. Flight attendants ran up and down the aisles and I think we knew at the point when we saw the fear in the flight attendants' eyes and they grabbed the fire extinguishers and we also smelled a bunch of smoke.


KING: Peter Bergen, were we lucky here?

BERGEN: Very lucky. You know, if the device had gone off, I'm not a mechanical engineer, but, you know, in previous kinds of cases where this type of activity has been prosecuted, for instance in the case of 2006, British prosecutors actually did a test on a plane and showed that the liquid explosive plan of 2006 would have brought down the planes involved. Similarly with Richard Reid, if he had managed to detonate that thing, the American airlines flight between Miami -- Paris to Miami, may well have gone down. So, I think we got incredibly lucky. And this would have been a transformational event almost as big as 9/11. Because, in the post-9/11 world, if you can bring down a commercial jet, that changes the international tourism aviation as a very noisy effect on an already damaged global economy.

KING: Fran, the person who has your job now that you had before, what is she doing now?

TOWNSEND: It is he. It is John Brennan.

KING: I got you confused with Napolitano.

TOWNSEND: John has two things that he is focused on predictably right now. One is working with law enforcement intelligence to understand in detail what happened in the different places around the world, Yemen, the U.K., where he traveled, who he communicate with and who is affiliating with in addition to how this happened. He is also on the other hand, working with Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security and making sure that whatever they learn on the intelligence and law enforcement side, they are now figuring that into the way they screen people not only at U.S. airports but they're sharing that to the extent they can, the hints, those pieces of the puzzle with screeners around, so those screeners know who to look for.

KING: By the way, Mrs. Napolitano will be on with John King tomorrow morning. Eric, does this make you pessimistic about where we are going with this?

MARGOLIS: No. But I think we have to be patient with it. This is going to be a long, long struggle. And we have to, as I said, grit our teeth. It eventually will die down. These things always do. And there will be accidents. You know, I was on a Lufthansa flight that was hijacked in 1991 on the way to Egypt and hijacked back to New York. And the hijacker was an Ethiopian who wanted to crash the plane into Wall Street. It was a lesson that was forgotten until 2001.

But, he got gone through security in Frankfurt simply because he had a hat on and he put the gun underneath his hat and the inspectors who were using wands and patting them down forgot to look under his hat. Simple as that, it was busy, it was a rush just like now, Christmas rush. So, you can't stop every attack. And you know, he who defends everything defends nothing. And we should not be panic by flying is still safer than driving. And we are on a country, where we have 42,000 people a year killed on the roads. As I said, you know, we must encounter a small risk when we travel but it is very small. And events like this will make it harder all the time.

KING: Harry, if are you a passenger on airline and something occurs, every passenger is considered a member of the Israeli army. That was supposed to take ...

HUMPHRIES: That's correct.

KING: Should Americans and others take action?

HUMPHRIES: Well, basically they have. Since 9/11, I think, one of our interviews we have, I said that the strongest defense we have is an aware flying public. The aware flying public has stopped every incident since 9/11. Because, they know it is not a trip to Cuba, it is death. So, just like this young man and the rest of the flying population on the aircraft did, they stopped this thing from going any further. That's a good thing. That plus the ballistic barrier between the pilots' area and the general population will stop everything I think from now on.

KING: Thank you all very much. Good to see you again, Harry.


KING: Hope on better circumstances. Every time we see Harry, something terrible happens.

More from one of flight 253's heroes and what he witnessed in 60 seconds.


KING: As we've reported a Dutch terrorist, Jasper Schuringa is being called a hero for quick courageous actions he took on Christmas Day aboard Flight 253 from Amsterdam. Here is more of his account of what happened in his exclusive interview with CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JASPER SCHURINGA, HELPED SUBDUE TERROR SUSPECT: When we heard the first explosion, people are just looking around, like you know, this is not good. What is going on? And then the first person shouted fire. And then, like, I got to my senses and said, this is wrong. First it was a pop. And then, like about 30 seconds later the smoke started to fill up on the left side beneath this person. He put something on fire that was in his pants. And apparently it was dripping. I think, it was the liquid or anything like that dripped down on the floor and the two pillows got ignited and it went very quick. And we were all just reacting to the fire and everybody was panicking. The whole plane was screaming. But the suspect, he, like, he didn't say a word. I basically reacted directly. I didn't think. When you hear a pop on the plane, you are awake, trust me.

As far as I could tell, he was traveling alone. He was just very calm. He was shaking though but he didn't resist anything. And he was just sitting there. And he looked like a normal guy as well. It was just hard to believe that, you know, he was actually going to try to blow up this plane. I burned my hands because obviously, I was trying to put out the fire and the object I was holding. It was on fire a little bit. And I had to damp it with my other hand, I had to damp the fire because, you know, it was growing. There were people standing around because, like, the person next to the suspect, he was, like, he freaked out. He was like, he stood up because there was a fire. I think there were like a lot of people trying to help later on. And we had very brave flight attendants that also helps. So, thank you for those people. They are also heroes. Yes, together we maintained the suspect and we got a safe landing.


KING: We'll be back with more experts from Amsterdam and London right after this.


KING: Let's go to central London. Standing by Nic Robertson, CNN senior international correspondent and Paul Cruickshank, a fellow at the NY Center on Law and Security. He has by the way contributed to CNN's terrorism coverage including the terrific documentary and the footsteps of Bin Laden.

Paul, what is your take on the events of the last two days.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, FELLOW, NY CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY: Well, we have just seen, I think, a very, very serious plot averted that could have killed hundreds of people in the skies, hundreds of more people on the ground. In 2006 here in London around ten individuals plotted a major attack to bring down airliners over the Atlantic Ocean. This seems a lot like that in many respects. Al Qaeda has come back to targeting airliners again and again, we saw in 9/11, we saw back in '95, an attempted attack over the pacific of American airliners. So, this has many of the hallmarks of al Qaeda. But it is still too early to tell whether if it organizationally linked to that terrorist organization, Larry. KING: Nic, how concerned are the British authorities about Muslim radicalism in the U.K.? Do they see this suspect as an on/off operator or part of a wider network?

ROBERTSON: They haven't -- we haven't heard from British officials specifically about the suspect at the moment. The British government said that they're very concern -- the prime minister today, he said he is concern helping U.S. authorities with their investigation. But if you look at what the intelligence service have said in the past few years here, they have 2,000 terrorist suspects that they're following. And about 30 active terror plots that they're following at any one time. It's a big problem here. It's something that they're watching very carefully.

And it's also something they're very aware of, they cannot know everything all the time, and just below this radicalized level of people who want to have active terror plots, there are people who want to radicalize the population, people who go out on the streets and say the queen should be kicked out of Buckingham palace. They should be turned into a mosque and the country should be run under Islamic laws. There's a very radical substrata that if you will just a few of the intelligence services have because there's so much, sort of obscuring the real radicals behind this.

KING: Joining us from Amsterdam as well as Richard Quest, cnn International Anchor and Correspondent. What's the latest in terms of the Dutch investigation, how the suspect got on the plane with an explosive device?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Larry. The interesting thing about the investigation is they are saying that everything actually was well performed and the security checks that the suspect went through were entirely normal. He arrived here from the flight from Lagos in Nigeria. And Nigerian flight tends to be -- those that more -- the authorities take interest in anyway because the immigration fraud and other issues. He then transferred over a three- hour period to the northwest flight. He went through a metal detector, he went through the x-ray machine or his bags did. But as they point out to me here, Larry. If he did have something on him such as we're hearing in his underwear or similar. That would not have been picked up by the metal detector. And of course, no second research was required then. Tonight, of course, we also know that second researches are being introduced much more widely at airports around the world, Larry.

KING: Paul, is it obvious here, somebody goofed?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, it's not absolutely clear, but there are a lot of red flags obviously this time around. The investigation will be starting right now, and I have a lot of soul searching will definitely be going on, Larry.

KING: Nic and Paul and Richard stay with us and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Richard Quest in Amsterdam, any indication the suspect wasn't working alone, that he might have had some help inside the airport?

QUEST: There's absolutely no evidence of that tonight. Nothing I've heard from officials here, and nothing -- I mean, I know of to suggest anything -- that's from the airport's point of view, Larry.

KING: Paul, this is your baby. You were on top of this scene and covered it so well. Is it going to get worse?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, at the moment, there's some signs particularly in the United States, there is more radicalization going on. The internet playing a role there. More Americans going to Pakistan, getting trained over there. There is still a lot of radicalization here in Europe, particularly here in the United Kingdom. There is more al Qaeda supporter's right here in the U.K. and any of the Western Country. So, the real causes concern but at the same time, what we're seeing is an emerging backlash from the Muslim communities around the world against al Qaeda. And that message from the Muslim communities against al Qaeda is starting to hit home from Saudi Arabia, to Libya, to Pakistan. So, a lot about countries and that does give us optimism, Larry.

KING: Nic, what is security like in Heathrow?

ROBERTSON: Security is such that you have to go through a very strict screening surge, where bags out, shoes off, belts off, jackets off, computers out of bags. They also have been running one of these testing screening systems in the past year or so, where they literally will photograph your body with -- it's not clear but it's an x-ray, but they can see everything that you're wearing, and what you might have on in terms of undergarments. There's a detection system that they've been trying out, but it's not something they've put into general use. Because, it is very time-consuming. It has to sort of take three shots of mapping your body in different angles, and generally, this is not something that has been put into use. Other than that, there are armed police officers always on patrol these days at Heathrow airport. And the airport authorities are very conscious that they are a high profile target for any would-be terrorists of any airports, British is also know on the threat of more terrorism from Northern Island right now, as well, Larry.

LARRY: Rich, what about security at the Amsterdam airport, a very famous airport?

QUEST: Yes, it's not only -- I think it's important to say tonight, Schiphol is one of the best run and most important airports of Europe. This is not some rink can I dink airport in the middle of nowhere. Security here is taken extremely seriously, at the forefront of not only procedures, but of equipment. Is that the new gadget out there, somewhere like Schiphol will have it, and remember Larry, that, Schiphol is one of the major European hubs and bases for Delta airlines and the old Northwest through their sky team alliance with Air France and KLM. So, it's not as if Delta has one or two flights a day into this place. You know, it's up to a dozen flights today from different parts of the U.S., it's a major modern airport, and they'll be -- I know for a fact, they told me today they're taking what is taking place accept it seriously.

KING: Paul, should people be concerned about flying internationally?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, people shouldn't be too fearful, people have to fly but there are real vulnerabilities the airliners have, these powdery explosives, liquid explosives are very very difficult to detect Larry, and that's why al Qaeda is trying to use them and will be likely to try to use them again. Western securities have to be vigilant every single day -- Larry.

KING: Paul, was this timed to the time of the year, do you think?

CRUICKSHANK: It's possible that it may be, you know, Christmas Day, it would be very shocking to a lot of Americans to have this happen. To have hundreds of people killed in the air, hundreds of people will say likely, like in Lockerbie killed on the ground. It's possible that there is a link to the season.

KING: We thank all of our guests for appearing with us tonight on a very special edition of Larry King live. We normally have taped rebroadcasts on Saturday night. But this was too important of a story.

Tomorrow night, we'll repeat our rebroadcast with our entire cast of the brilliant picture "Nine." Stay tuned for this.