Obama Still Mum on Airline Attack

Monday, 28 Dec 2009 11:24 AM

 

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – President Barack Obama was expected to break his public silence on the thwarted attempt to down a US airliner on Monday, as a political storm brewed over the attack.

The White House warned Republican foes on Sunday not to inject politics into the aftermath of the bid by a 23-year-old Nigerian to destroy a Northwest jet carrying 290 people, as a sweeping national security operation unfolded.

The president, vacationing in Hawaii, has not commented on television about the Christmas Day drama, apparently seeking to project calm and avoid the political pointscoring and panic seen after past terror incidents.

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But White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama would make a statement to reporters later on Monday. His remarks were expected to focus on the Detroit incident.

The White House on Sunday sought to defuse nascent Republican assaults following Friday's incident in which the man tried to detonate explosives to blow the plane out of the sky as it approached Detroit.

"The president believes strongly that this has to be a non-partisan issue," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC in one of a string of television appearances he and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made on Sunday.

"This should not be a tug of war between the two political parties. I hope everyone will resolve in the New Year to make protecting our nation non-partisan -- rather than what happens in Washington, devolving into politics," he said.

Obama got a 6:00 am (1600 GMT) briefing on latest developments in the probe into the airborne terror bid from top national security aides, the White House said in the latest regular bulletin on his response to the crisis.

He later quickly convened a fresh teleconference with top advisors, after a second alert aboard another Amsterdam-Detroit flight on Sunday, though the incident turned out to be a false alarm triggered by a disruptive passenger.

Gibbs also said that Obama ordered a review of US no-fly watch-lists and demanded information on how a suspected radical could board the airliner rigged with explosives.

But the president's Republican foes made the first political thrusts following Thursday's attack on a Northwest jet heading to Detroit, accusing him of softening the US focus on radical Islamic terror threats.

They also questioned Napolitano's statement that the air security system "worked," referring to the fact that alert passengers and crew jumped on Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before his device could fully detonate.

New York Congressman Peter King said there was no need for Obama to "rush for a microphone" but noted the president's media ubiquity over the past year and asked him for a "calm, reassuring" pep talk.

"Tell the American people, 'this is what we're doing; we're on top of this; we're going to win, but this is a reminder of why we always have to be alert to the evils of Islamic terrorism,'" King told CBS.

The White House countered that Obama has constantly monitored the situation, ordered probes into airline security and the use of intelligence and hiked airport precautions.

"The president refuses to play politics with these issues as he said at West Point (in December). We must put aside petty politics and recapture the unity that we had after 9/11," said another Obama spokesman, Bill Burton in Hawaii.

Democrats accused ex-president George W. Bush's administration of exploiting terror scares for political gain.

But Republicans leveraged Friday's drama to bolster their theme that Obama's policies, including reaching out to the Muslim world and closing the Guantanamo Bay terror camp, were making Americans less safe.

"This whole thing should remind us, that the soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo -- these things are not going to appease the terrorists," said South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint on Fox.

Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra added : "The Obama administration came in and said, 'We're not going to use the word terrorism anymore'... trying to, you know, I think, downplay the threat from terrorism."

Obama aides have been less prone to use the phrase "war on terror" than the previous White House, but insist they have refocused the US anti-terror fight.

"We are drawing down in Iraq and focusing... on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the place where the attacks of 9/11 originated," and also focusing on Yemen and Somalia, said Gibbs.

© AFP 2014

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