December 29, 2009
December 29, 2009
I’m The First Of Many, Warns Airline ‘Bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
By Giles Whittell and Adam Fresco
A global search for accomplices in the Detroit airliner plot was under way yesterday after an al-Qaeda group based in Yemen claimed responsibility for the operation and the would-be bomber was reported to have said that more attacks were being planned.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist cell led by a former personal secretary to Osama bin Laden, issued a statement saying that the failed attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a response to American-backed airstrikes on the group in Yemen this month.
Yemeni government forces, acting on US intelligence and using what officials have admitted was American military hardware, launched air raids on suspected militants in the east of the country on December 17 and again on December 24. At least 60 people were understood to have been killed.
Mr Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who set himself alight in a packed Airbus approaching Detroit on Christmas Day, bought his one-way ticket from a KLM office in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, on December 16, indicating that his attack was planned well before these latest air raids. A US military effort to deny al-Qaeda a stronghold in Yemen has been under way for at least a year.
The fresh-faced engineering graduate was transferred yesterday from hospital in Detroit to a federal prison in Milan, Michigan, where agents questioning him said he told them that he was one of many bombers being groomed by the Yemeni alQaeda affiliate to attack American-bound aircraft, according to ABC News.
The Yemeni authorities confirmed yesterday that Mr Abdulmutallab had been in the country since August.
The disclosures came as Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said he doubted that Mr Abdulmutallab had acted alone, and Dutch military police announced that they were investigating a witness’s description of an accomplice who may have helped the young Nigerian to board the aircraft in Amsterdam.
In Hawaii, President Obama interrupted his holiday to make his first public statement last night on the attempted attack, which he called “a serious reminder” of the terrorist threat to the American mainland. “We will not rest until we find all those who were involved and hold them accountable,” he said.
After a day of rapid developments in the case, Janet Napolitano, the US Homeland Security Secretary, scheduled two TV interviews to correct an impression of complacency given on Sunday, when she said that the multibillion-dollar system established since 9/11 to keep the American flying public safe had worked.
Asked on NBC’s Today show if the system had in fact “failed miserably”, she said: “It did. Our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that.”
She said that she had previously been referring to the rapid response to the Christmas Day attack rather than the failure to prevent it. That response included alerts sent to all 128 other aircraft in US airspace at the time and new security requirements for the final hour of every flight, during which passengers are now banned from visiting the lavatory, viewing inflight route maps or having blankets in their laps.
The spectre of a wave of lone suicide bombers attempting to board airliners bound for the US gave fresh urgency to the Dutch investigation of how Mr Abdulmutallab was able to board Northwest Airlines flight 253 despite being on an American watch list and banned from entering Britain.
Two passengers on the flight, Kurt and Lori Haskell, said yesterday that they had seen the young man walk to the gate desk at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, with a well-dressed older man whom they claimed to overhear asking that Mr Abdulmutallab be allowed to board without a passport. “The guy said, ‘He’s from Sudan and we do this all the time’,” Mr Haskell, a lawyer, told a Detroit news website. The claim was being taken seriously by Dutch authorities last night.
In London Mr Johnson said it remained unclear whether Mr Abdulmutallab had acted alone or with others, but added: “I suspect it’s the latter rather than the former.”