Honolulu An al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen apparently ordered the Christmas Day plot against a U.S. airliner, training and arming the 23-year-old Nigerian man accused in the failed bombing, President Barack Obama said Saturday.
“This is not the first time this group has targeted us,” Obama said, reporting on some of the findings of an administration review into how intelligence agencies failed to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253.
In his most direct public language to date, Obama described the path through Yemen of Abdulmutallab. He also emphasized that the United States would continue its partnerships with friendly countries — citing Yemen, in particular — to fight terrorists and extremist groups.
The U.S. plans to more than double its counterterrorism aid to the impoverished, fragmented Arab nation in the coming year to support Yemen’s campaign against al-Qaida.
Also, the British government said today that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Obama had agreed to fund a counterterrorism police unit in Yemen to tackle the rising terrorist threat from the country.
Obama’s homeland security team has been piecing together just how Abdulmutallab was able to get on the plane. Officials have described flaws in the system and by those executing the strategy and have delivered a preliminary assessment.
A top counterterrorism official said Saturday that al-Qaida and other extremists are working to test U.S. defenses and launch an attack on American soil.
The failed attempt against the plane “is the starkest of reminders of the insidious terrorist threats we face,” said Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “We know with absolute certainty that al-Qaida and those who support its ideology continue to refine their methods to test our defenses and pursue an attack on the homeland,” he said.
The center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, draws experts from the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies who try to ensure that clues about potential attacks are not missed.
A senior administration official had said the United States increasingly was confident of a link between Abdulmutallab and an al-Qaida affiliate, but Obama’s statement was the strongest connection between the two. The official said regular updates from the White House Situation Room and from his homeland security advisers gave Obama enough confidence to use this radio address — typically, focused on domestic priorities — to communicate a stark message about Abdulmutallab.
“We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaida, and that this group — al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.