By Kim Hart and Jordan Fabian - 12/26/09 08:25 PM EST
Congressional hearings will begin in January to investigate the alleged attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight just before touching down in Detroit on Christmas Day, as top lawmakers voiced concerns about breakdowns in homeland security protections.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which he helms, will hold hearings in January to look into Friday's incident and related security matters. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the House Homeland Security Committee will also hold hearings to "get to the bottom of what did and did not happen and what security precautions need to take place in the future."
On Saturday, Abdulmutallab was charged in federal court with trying to blow up the flight using the explosive agent pentaerythritol.
"Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured,"said in a statement. "We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously, and we will use all measures available to our government to ensure that anyone responsible for this attempted attack is brought to justice."
An Obama administration official told ABC News on Friday night that the incident was being considered an "attempted act of terrorism." Dutch officials told reporters that the U.S. had asked their airport authorities to take extra care screening flights bound for America.
President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, held a secure call early Saturday morning with John Brennan, his homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, where he received an update on the investigation and the heightened air travel safety measures.
"The President will continue to actively monitor the situation," White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.
U.S. officials have said that there is no indication that the Northwest Airlines incident was part of a broader operation. Initial reports said that Abdulmutallab claimed he was acting on orders from al-Qaeda to blow up the plane over U.S. soil.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the incident was a "disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert."
Other Republicans were more forceful, saying the attacks should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and that red flags should be taken more seriously to prevent future incidents.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Select Intelligence Committee, told the Detroit Free Press that the attack is an indication that al-Qaeda is planning more widespread attacks on the United States.
"People have got to start connecting the dots here and maybe this is the thing that will connect the dots for the Obama administration," he said.
Hoekstra, who called the incident a full-fledged terrorist attack rather than an attempted one, brought up the deadly Fort Hood shooting spree allegedly perpetrated by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is reportedly linked to an Islamic cleric in Yemen.
He also brought up a report by the Associated Press that U.S. officials had known about Abdulmutallab's ties to terrorists for as long as two years.
"Are we seeing a breakdown in our intelligence community so that when we see these red flags we aren't recognizing them?" Hoekstra told Fox News on Saturday. "Congress needs to push to get access to this information to answer these questions."
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN Friday evening he had confirmed that Abdulmutallab was not on a no-fly list, but his name was on a separate list for having terrorist connections.
King suggested that the United States had voiced previous concerns about Nigerian air security, prompting U.S. officials to provide some security assistance to that government.
"There's a real worry about terrorist activity in Nigeria, so much so that last year the American government gave body detection technology to Nigeria for their airports," King said. "Their level of security, we felt, was not comparable to others."
Airport screening technology will be a big part of congressional investigations, Thompson said Saturday.
Thompson, who chairs that Homeland Security Committee, said an oversight hearing will focus on how technology could have been used to prevent the incident.
He said he also wants to investigate the "sharing of information," including no-fly lists and other databases intended to help screen potentially dangerous individuals in airports.
"From an oversight standpoint, we want to see if more technology could be helpful or to see if it was missed by human error," he said. "Information sharing has always been an issue -- the way these lists are shared, how people get on these lists and how they get off."
The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place for all domestic and international flights, and warned that passengers may notice new procedures and should allot extra time for check-in.
"These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
"We are also working closely with federal, state and local law enforcement on additional security measures, as well as our international partners on enhanced security at airports and on flights," she added.
Napolitano said she was "grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results."
This story was updated at 5:15 p.m.