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Explosive device set off aboard airliner

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What went wrong on flight?
  • White House is considering the incident an attempted terrorist attack
  • Passenger is immediately subdued; FBI investigating
  • Flight originated in Amsterdam, Netherlands, ended in Detroit, Michigan

Romulus, Michigan (CNN) -- A passenger on an international flight bound for the United States Friday ignited a small explosive device shortly before landing in a move the White House called an attempted terrorist attack, a senior administration official said.

Another passenger on the Northwest flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, quickly helped subdue and isolate the young male suspect with the aid of the cabin crew, passenger Syed Jafry said.

The suspect, identified by a U.S. government official as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was placed in custody and is being treated for second- and third-degree burns on his thighs, according to federal law enforcement and airline security sources.

The sources said the suspect flew into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on a KLM flight from Lagos, Nigeria, and is not believed to be on any "no fly" list, although his name does appear in a U.S. database of people with suspect connections. He did not undergo secondary security screening in Amsterdam, the administration official said.

The administration official said there was no evidence that Abdulmatallab was a hard-core, trained member of al-Qaeda.

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The suspect, identified as a Nigerian national, claimed to have extremist ties and said the explosive device "was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used," said a federal security bulletin obtained by CNN.

The FBI is investigating, bureau spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said.

The remains of the device used are being sent to an FBI explosives lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis, the sources said.

President Obama, who is spending the holidays in his home state of Hawaii, was briefed on the incident during a secure phone call with aides, and instructed in a subsequent discussion with security advisers "that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," said White House spokesman Bill Burton. The president made no changes to his schedule, Burton said.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Friday saying that air passengers "may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights."

Passengers described the brief moments of panic on board as screams erupted and flight attendants ran for fire extinguishers.

Jafry, who was sitting in seat 16G, said the plane was just beginning to descend when passengers heard a pop.

"Everybody got a little bit startled," he said. "After a few seconds or so ... there was ... kind of a flamish light and there was fire" and people around the immediate area began to panic.

One woman told CNN affiliate WDIV that a man threw a blanket over the suspect's legs to help put out the small fire.

"It was terrifying," Richelle Keepman said. "I think we all thought we weren't going to land, we weren't going to make it."

Passenger Elias Fawaz told WDIV that the explosion sounded "like a balloon being popped" and said he could smell smoke.

WDIV coverage of plane incident

Jafry said the incident was under control within minutes, crediting the crew and nearby passengers for the rapid response.

One person was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said.

"All passengers have deplaned and out of an abundance of caution, the plane was moved to a remote area," where the plane and baggage were rescreened, the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement. Passengers were interviewed by law enforcement authorities before being allowed to leave the airport. No other suspicious materials were found on the plane or in luggage, the law enforcement and airline security sources said.

No other suspicious materials were found on the plane or in luggage, the law enforcement and airline security sources said. The suspect had only carry-on luggage.

Another passenger on the Northwest flight transferred from the same KLM flight in Amsterdam but officials found no connection between the two, the sources said.

The plane, an Airbus 330, landed shortly before noon. It was carrying 278 passengers.

Delta is the parent company of Northwest.

CNN's Mike Brooks, Jeanne Meserve, Kevin Bohn, Elise Labott, Ed Henry and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.