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White House: Failed Airline Bombing Was Attempted Act of Terrorism

A male passenger on an international flight bound for Detroit Friday tried to blow up the plane with an explosive device in an incident that the White House is labeling an attempted act of terrorism.

Several people were hurt on the plane, which had Delta markings, but was listed as Northwest Flight 253. One person, possibly the suspect, was admitted to the University of Michigan Medical Center at Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said.

The suspect, who ABC reported suffered second-degree burns, told federal investigators he was connected to Al Qaeda, though authorities are questioning the veracity of that statement, Fox News confirmed. A federal situational awareness bulletin noted that the explosive was acquired in Yemen with instructions as to when it should be used, ABC said.

Eyewitness Peter Smith said one passenger climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the alleged attacker. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

Afterward, the suspect was taken to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Multiple law enforcement officials also said the man appeared badly burned on his legs, indicating the explosive was strapped there. The components were apparently mixed in-flight and included a powdery substance, officials said.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) identified the suspect as 23-year-old Abdul Mudallad of Nigeria, and King said Mudallad "definitely has connections" to Al Qaeda.

King said Mudallad was not on any terrorism watchlist.

"This could have been catastrophic," said King, speaking to "FOX Report" Friday night. "We were lucky on this one."

White House officials confirmed Friday that the attack was an attempted act of terrorism.

"He appears to have had some kind of incendiary device he tried to ignite," said one of the U.S. officials.

Authorities initially believed the passenger had set off firecrackers that caused some minor injuries. The suspect reportedly suffered second-degree burns in the failed attempt to ignite the device.

One law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case, said Mudallad's name had surfaced earlier on at least one U.S. intelligence database, but not to the extent that he was placed on a watch list or a no-fly list.

Mudallad was being questioned Friday evening. An intelligence official said the Nigerian passenger was being held and treated in an Ann Arbor, Mich., hospital. One passenger was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said. She referred all inquiries to the FBI.

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the passenger was subdued immediately. She had no details on the injuries. Delta and Northwest have merged.

An FBI spokeswoman in Detroit said the incident is being investigated. It came just as the flight, an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers, was arriving in Detroit from Amsterdam.

Passenger Syed Jafri, a U.S. citizen who had flown from the United Arab Emirates, said the incident occurred during the plane's descent. Jafri said he was seated three rows behind the passenger and said he saw a glow, and noticed a smoke smell. Then, he said, "a young man behind me jumped on him."

"Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic," he said.

Rich Griffith, a passenger from Pontiac, said he was seated too far in the back to see what had happened. But he said he didn't mind being detained on the plane for several hours. "It's frustrating if you don't want to keep your country safe," he said. "We can't have what's going on everywhere else happening here."

The incident was reminiscent of Richard Reid, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, but was subdued by other passengers. Reid is serving a life sentence.

President Barack Obama was notified of the incident and discussed it with security officials, the White House said. It said he is monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates from his vacation spot in Hawaii.

J.P. Karas, 55, of Wyandotte, Mich., said he was driving down a road near the airport and saw a Delta jet at the end of the runway, surrounded by police cars, an ambulance, a bus and some TV trucks.

"I don't ever recall seeing a plane on that runway ever before and I pass by there frequently," he said.

Karas said it was difficult to tell what was going on, but it looked like the front wheel was off the runway.

The Homeland Security Department said passengers may see additional screening measures on domestic and international flights because of the incident.

"We encourage those with future travel plans to stay in touch with their airline and to visit www.tsa.gov for updates," the department said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been briefed on the incident and is closely monitoring the situation.

The department encouraged travelers to be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials.

The suspect is an engineering student at the University College of London.

Fox News' Mike Levine, NewsCore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.