Citing a law enforcement official, the Times reported Saturday the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had told investigators the bomb expert was connected with an al-Qaida network in Yemen. While the claim has not been independently corroborated, the law enforcement official called it "plausible" and said, "I see no reason to discount it."
Federal prosecutors alleged Abdulmutallab set off an explosive device attached to his body as Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam, Netherlands, approached the Detroit airport in the unsuccessful Christmas Day attempt to take down the airliner.
Meantime, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said a federal official had briefed members of Congress on the possible Yemen-al-Qaida link, The Washington Post reported.
"The facts are still emerging, but there are strong suggestions of a Yemen-al-Qaida connection and an intent to blow up the plane over U.S. airspace," said Harman, who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.
The Times said Abdulmutallab told the FBI he had contacted a radical Yemeni cleric through the Internet and the cleric connected him with the al-Qaida network, operating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
A senior White House official told the Times U.S. officials became aware of Abdulmutallab "several weeks ago" but what they discovered then was not enough evidence to suggest he might undertake a terrorist attack.
The suspect's father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, former First Bank of Nigeria chairman, had warned U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria and Nigerian security agencies of his son's extremist religious views six months ago, the Nigerian Tribune reported. Mutallab questioned why his son would be granted a permit to travel in the United Sates after having been reported a "security risk," the Tribune reported.
The Times noted the Yemeni government had launched a major offensive in recent days against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula .
The Yemeni government was investigating whether Abdulmutallab came to Yemen to pick up the explosive device, the newspaper said.