Airline bomb plot accused Abdulmutallab 'joined al-Qaida in London'

Yemen deputy PM claims Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab may have met radical cleric linked to Fort Hood accused

A Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a US-bound plane on Christmas Day was recruited by al-Qaida in London and may have met a radical Islamist cleric linked to the Fort Hood mass shooting, Yemen's deputy prime minister said today.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was indicted yesterday on charges including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people aboard the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

He has reportedly told US intelligence officials that he was trained in Yemen, raising fears about the spread of extremism in the country.

"The information provided to us is that Umar Farouk joined al-Qaida in London," Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister for defence and security, told a news conference.

Senior British counterterrorism officials dismissed the claims, saying there was no evidence to back them up. Sources in the UK said Abdulmutallab's radicalisation began at his school in Togo and peaked in a six-month period in Yemen before the attempted bombing.

He came to MI5's attention during the three years he studied mechanical engineering at University College London, because of his internet activity and contacts with certain websites, security sources said. That information was passed to US agencies but there was nothing to suggest Abdulmutallab was a terrorist threat, they added.

"As far as we can see, while in the UK he expressed an interest in radical Islamism and reaching out [to it]," said a well-placed security source. However, MI5 did not consider Abdulmutallab to be a threat to national security by the time he left Britain.

Alimi said that during Abdulmutallab's stay in Yemen, he may have met the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and al-Qaida leaders. Awlaki gained notoriety last year when it emerged that he exchanged dozens of emails with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people in a mass shooting at the Fort Hood army post in Texas on 5 November. The cleric is popular among al-Qaida sympathisers for his calls for holy war.

Alimi said Yemen had arrested and was interrogating a number of al-Qaida elements who had contacts with Abdulmutallab.

Yemen's foreign minister, Abubakr al-Qirbi, said today that fighting militants was the country's "priority", despite facing a Shia revolt in the north and simmering separatist sentiment in the south, but rejected foreign intervention.

"I think the US, as well, have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq and other places that direct intervention can be self-defeating," he told CNN.

Barack Obama is due to disclose more information about the failed airline bomb plot today and detail the steps he is taking to prevent future terrorist attacks. The White House is making public a declassified account of the incident and the US president will address the nation about its findings and recommendations.

On Tuesday, Obama criticised intelligence agencies, saying the system "has failed in a potentially disastrous way". But he is not expected to announce any firings as a result of the security failings.

Abdulmutallab's father had warned US officials that Abdulmutallab had drifted into extremism in Yemen, but that threat was never identified fully by intelligence officials.

The Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported last night that US border security officials learned of Abdulmutallab's alleged extremist links while he was en route to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed. The Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment.

The president's comments today will be the sixth time he has spoken publicly on the incident. He is eager to provide the public with reassurances while at the same time moving public attention back to the administration's efforts to expand healthcare and boost the economy.

A grand jury in Detroit heard yesterday that Abdulmutallab intended to destroy the plane by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive concealed in his underwear "at a time of his choosing". He was indicted on six counts and faces up to life in prison if convicted.


Haroon Siddique and Richard Norton-Taylor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Barack Obama says al-Qaida behind botched Christmas Day bomb plot
US president reveals would-be suicide bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, trained by terror group affiliate in Yemen

David Batty and agencies

02, Jan, 2010 @12:55 PM

Article image
Al-Qaida links to Christmas Day plane bomb plot investigated
Nigerian's British links investigated as attention turns to al-Qaida's Yemen stronghold

Peter Walker and Chris McGreal

28, Dec, 2009 @12:17 AM

Article image
Al-Qaida airline bomb plot thwarted by CIA

Plan hatched by Yemen affiliate of al-Qaida involved more sophisticated version of 2009 underwear bomb

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

07, May, 2012 @11:26 PM

Article image
Airline bomb plot security review finds key failings by CIA and terror agency

Obama rules out sackings over three main blunders

Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Ian Black and Richard Norton-Taylor

08, Jan, 2010 @12:24 AM

Article image
Bomber linked to London extremists but radicalised in Yemen, officials say
Counterterrorism investigators believe six months in Yemen formed crucial period of Abdulmutallab's training

Richard Norton-Taylor and Robert Booth

30, Dec, 2009 @6:48 PM

Article image
Suspected al-Qaida bomb-maker arrested in London
Man, 37, arrested in north-west London after being linked with DNA taken from devices made in Iraq seven years ago

Duncan Gardham

23, Sep, 2014 @5:41 PM

Airline bomb plot: At war with the world
Editorial: The terrorists' chosen mode of operation diminishes their ability to portray themselves as purely anti-American


28, Dec, 2009 @12:05 AM

Article image
Body scanners blocked by US 'could have prevented attempted plane attack'
Abdulmutallab's explosives might have been spotted had agreement been reached, Dutch minister says

Mark Tran and agencies

30, Dec, 2009 @6:22 PM

How a radical student joined the global terror network
As the security services and anti-terror police look into Umar Abdulmutallab's time at University College London, his connections with Muslim extremists are slowly coming to light. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown is due to announce that Britain and the US will jointly fund an anti-terror police unit in Yemen

Rajeev Syal and Mark Townsend

03, Jan, 2010 @12:06 AM

Article image
Couple found guilty of 7/7 anniversary London bomb plot
Mohammed Rehman stockpiled explosives and asked Twitter followers whether to target shopping centre or London Underground

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

29, Dec, 2015 @4:58 PM