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Yemen eyes Abdulmutallab-cleric link

  |   Dec. 31, 2009 at 5:58 PM
WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Yemeni investigators say they're looking into a link between the man accused in the failed Christmas Day airliner terror attack and a radical Muslim cleric.

Rashad Mohammed al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister for defense and security affairs, told The Washington Post Thursday investigators believe Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with suspected al-Qaida operatives at a house used by Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Al-Alimi also said the cleric -- also tied to the accused gunman in the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre -- was alive. U.S. officials said they thought al-Awlaki was killed in a Dec. 24 airstrike on a house in southeastern Yemen, the Post reported Thursday.

U.S. officials also were investigating whether the cleric played a role in the failed Christmas Day attack, the Post said.

Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to blow up Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas.

Alimi said U.S. authorities did not alert Yemen counterparts when CIA agents learned last August that the militant group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula planned to activate "a Nigerian bomber." Yemeni security officials also weren't alerted about concerns raised by Abdulmutallab's father about his son's increasingly radical views, the deputy prime minister said.

"If we had received the information at the appropriate time, our security apparatus could have taken obvious measures to stop him," Alimi said.

Abdulmutallab is believed to have traveled in October to Shabwa, a province known as al-Qaida stronghold, under the cover of studying at an Arabic language school, Alimi said. Yemeni investigators, he said, think Shabwa was where Abdulmutallab received trained and was equipped with explosive chemicals sewn into his underwear worn on Flight 253.

"If he went to Shabwa, for sure he would have met Anwar al-Awlaki," Alimi said.

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