Saturday, December 26, 2009

U.S. Charges Suspect in Foiled Plane Attack, Eyeing Link to AQAP

Via -

The 23-year-old Nigerian man who was charged on Saturday with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas told investigators he had obtained explosive chemicals from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a law enforcement official said.

Authorities have not independently corroborated the Yemen connection claimed by the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was burned in his failed attempt to bring down the airliner. But the law enforcement official said the suspect’s account was “plausible,” adding, “I see no reason to discount it.”

“The facts are still emerging, but there are strong suggestions of a Yemen-Al Qaeda connection and an intent to blow up the plane over U.S. airspace,” said Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

Mr. Abdulmutallab told F.B.I. agents he was connected to the Al Qaeda affiliate, which operates largely in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted via the Internet.

A senior Obama administration official said Mr. Abdulmutallab had come to the attention of American officials at least “several weeks ago,” but the initial information was not specific enough to raise alarms that he could potentially carry out a terrorist attack.

The investigative file was opened after Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father warned officials at the United States Embassy in Nigeria of his son’s increasingly extremist religious views, the official said.

“The information was passed into the system, but the expression of radical extremist views were very nonspecific,” said the senior administration official, who has been briefed on the inquiry but spoke on condition of anonymity because it is continuing. “We were evaluating him, but the information we had was not a lot to go on.”

The incident prompted a significant change to airline security. International passengers will not be allowed to move about aircraft during the last hour of a flight, and there will be extra screening of baggage at airports.

Mr. Abdulmutallab was charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft and placing a destructive device on an aircraft, the Justice Department announced on Saturday. He was arraigned later on Saturday in a conference room on the first floor of the University of Michigan Hospital burn unit, where he has been in intensive care with third-degree burns since Friday.

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