Airline bombing suspect spent months in Yemen

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Authorities in Yemen say the Nigerian man accused of trying to destroy a U.S. airliner last week lived in Yemen during a four-month period earlier this year.

The Yemeni Foreign Ministry and it's Minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi says 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lived there between early August and early December. The ministry says the Nigerian was granted a visa to study Arabic at an institute in the capital Sana'a. Security officials say they approved the visa for Abdulmutallab because he was granted visas by several friendly countries, and still held a valid visa to the United States.

Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to detonate a bomb while flying aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit. Authorities say he unsuccessfully tried to set off explosives attached to his body as the plane was approaching Detroit.

A group known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility on Monday for the failed attack. In an Internet statement, the group says the attack was in retaliation for U.S. support for operations against the group in Yemen. The claim could not be independently verified.

Yemen has recently begun operations with U.S. support against al-Qaeda due to concerns that the country is becoming a training ground for militants. al-Qirbi said to BBC's Radio 4, that al-Qeada remains a top priority despite the Yemeni government having to deal with two insurgencies, one in the north by Shi'a rebels and one in the south by separatists.

al-Qirbi said the Yemeni government needs more support, "We need more training. We have to expand our counter terrorism units and this means providing them with the necessary training, military equipment, ways of transportation - we are very short of helicopters. The United States can do a lot, Britain can do a lot, the European Union can do a lot in that regard."

He also believed there 200 to 300 members of al-Qaeda in Yemen, however, that is a rough estimate. He added, "Of course there are a number in Yemen and they may actually plan for attacks as in Detroit." However, he called some statements made by U.S. officials overstated and "exaggerated in some media."

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States will use all resources to find and hold accountable those responsible for the terrorist plot.

The president on Monday ordered a full review of air safety regulations and the terrorist watch-list system, in an effort to prevent future attacks. He vowed to use every element of U.S. power "to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat" extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, who might want to attack the United States.

Abdulmutallab's name was listed in a U.S. government intelligence database, but he was not on the government's so-called "no-fly list," which would have banned him from flying on a U.S. airline.

His father, a prominent banker and former Nigerian government minister, had warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria about his son's extremist views.