THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Yemen investigates Nigerian’s contact with Al Qaeda militants

Nation says US failed to share data on man

EXTREMIST FOOTHOLD Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, told BBC radio there could be as many as 300 Al Qaeda militants in Yemen. EXTREMIST FOOTHOLD
Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, told BBC radio there could be as many as 300 Al Qaeda militants in Yemen.
By Ahmed Al-Haj
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

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SANA, Yemen - Officials in Yemen were investigating yesterday whether the Nigerian suspected in the attempted Christmas Day attack on a US airliner spent time with Al Qaeda militants in the country in the months leading up to the botched bombing.

Administrators, teachers, and fellow students at the Sana Institute for the Arabic Language, where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had enrolled to study Arabic, said he attended school for only the month of Ramadan, which began in late August. That has raised questions about what he did during the rest of his stay, which continued into December.

Abdulmutallab, 23, told US officials after his arrest that he received training and instructions from Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, a law enforcement official has said.

According to Yemeni officials, Abdulmutallab spent another extended period in Yemen, from 2004 to 2005.

People at the school who knew Abdulmutallab said he was not openly extremist, though he expressed anger over Israel’s actions against Palestinians in Gaza.

The possibility that he was involved with militants in Yemen has heightened concerns about the largely lawless country that has become an Al Qaeda stronghold. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group formed in January when operatives from Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged, claimed responsibility Monday for the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound airliner.

Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy suggested the United States was partly to blame for Yemen’s failure to identify Abdulmutallab as a terror suspect. He said at a news conference that Washington never shared its suspicions about the man, who was flagged on a watchlist as a possible terrorist.

“We didn’t get any notice from the Americans to put this man on a list,’’ Lozy said. “America should have told Yemen about this man.’’

Lozy said Abdulmutallab received a Yemeni visa to study Arabic after authorities were reassured that he had “several visas from a number of countries that we are cooperating with in the fight against terror.’’ He noted that Abdulmutallab had a valid visa to the United States, which he had visited in the past.

“Our investigations are looking into who were the people or parties that were in touch with Umar here,’’ Lozy said.

He noted Abdulmutallab frequented a mosque in the old city, but did not say whether that mosque was linked to Al Qaeda.

The minister said Yemen was tightening controls on those seeking student visas to come to Yemen in the aftermath of Abdulmutallab’s case.

The new revelations were made a day after the Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen claimed responsibility for the failed attack, saying it was meant “to avenge the American attacks on Al Qaeda in Yemen.’’

The claim of responsibility could alter the administration’s counterterrorism policy in Yemen, where it has generally played down the role of the United States in providing intelligence and equipment.

It could raise the question of whether the United States would have to take more direct action, possibly including a retaliatory military strike. The National Security Council is expected to review the Yemen policy soon.

Yemeni forces, with US intelligence help, launched two major strikes against Al Qaeda this month, reportedly killing at least 64 militants. But the group’s reference to the strikes was apparently propaganda because Abdulmutallab bought his ticket to the United States on Dec. 16, a day before the first of the two strikes. The second was on Dec. 24, a day before the airliner bombing attempt.

Al Qaeda in Yemen, led by Naser Abdel Karim al-Wahishi, includes several Saudis who have been released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and have attended the kingdom’s program designed to reform extremists.

The attempted bombing has raised uncertainty in Congress about President Obama’s plans to shut down the Guantanamo facility; nearly half the remaining detainees are from Yemen.

Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, told BBC radio yesterday that there could be up to 300 Al Qaeda militants in his country, some of whom may be planning attacks on Western targets like the one in Detroit.

The Pentagon recently said it has poured nearly $70 million in military aid into Yemen this year - compared with none in 2008.

Yesterday, a Saudi official in Riyadh confirmed for the first time that the same type of explosive was used in a failed assassination attempt in August against Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for that attack.

According to US court documents, a preliminary analysis of the device showed it contained pentaerythritol.