KAILUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - President Barack Obama assured Americans on Monday the United States will defeat those behind an attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner and sought to blunt criticism that his response to the incident was slow.
Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, made his first public statement about Friday’s failed attempt to down a plane over U.S. soil, promising to track down anyone connected to it.
“The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season,” Obama told reporters.
“A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism, and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable,” he said.
Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is charged with attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.
A wing of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day attack.
Abdulmutallab has told U.S. investigators that the group’s operatives in Yemen supplied him with an explosive device and trained him on how to detonate it, officials said.
Obama outlined the steps he had directed to be taken since the incident, including enhancing security screening for all flights and adding federal marshals to planes departing and entering the United States.
He also ordered a review of a watch system to identify dangerous individuals before they travel and a review of travel screening policies and procedures.
“We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will ... do more than simply strengthen our defenses,” Obama said.
Analysts said the president, a Democrat, had opened himself to criticism through his administration’s response to the incident. Republicans question whether the administration is doing enough to contain security threats.
“He gets out front on a lot of issues, but he doesn’t seem to be out front on this,” said Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs in Pennsylvania, referring to Obama.
Madonna said he thought the president’s reaction could hurt his standing with moderate and independent voters.
“When there is a botched security incident that was extremely serious, Republicans have an opening to criticizing the administration for being responsible, and many Republicans will take that opportunity,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted on Monday that the incident represented a failure of the security system. On Sunday she insisted that the system in place to protect air travel had worked.
“Obama has to handle this with care, and Napolitano’s initial response was not a good one,” Zelizer said.
Obama, dressed in a coat but no tie, said he ordered the review of airline screening to see how Abdulmutallab had made it onto a plane with explosive material and to determine what other steps were needed to prevent future attacks.
Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham