Christmas Day plot connects Nigeria, Yemen and Guantanamo

December 30th, 2009 - 1:34 pm ICT by IANS  

By Pat Reber
Washington, Dec 30 (DPA) When the man charged with the most serious terrorist attack on the US in years disappeared some months ago, his Nigerian family tried to track him down.

They contacted Nigerian security agencies and “some foreign security agencies” within the last two months, seeking help in bringing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, back home.

“We were hopeful that they would find and return him home,” the family said in a statement this week.

Abdulmutallab’s alleged attempt to explode the Northwest Airlines/Delta airliner on Christmas Day as it approached Detroit airport from Amsterdam has shaken the US security establishment to the core and frayed nerves of US and world travellers with increased restrictions.

It shed new light on the growing use of Yemen, one of the Arabic world’s poorest countries, as a world terrorist training ground, situated strategically on the Gulf of Aden.

It raised new worries about releasing prisoners back to Yemen from the US military’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility, where Yemen terrorist suspects make up nearly half the remaining population.

And it revealed the growing trend of worried family members to seek help from officialdom when one of their own appears to have become radicalised to militant Islamism.

Abdulmutallab’s father, Alhaji Umaru Abdulmutallab, is a wealthy former Nigerian government minister and top bank official who also owns property in a posh West End neighbourhood of London. He sent his son to the University College London, where he studied engineering.

Among the officials the father contacted were US security officials at the US embassy, with whom he shared his worries about Umar Farouk’s radicalisation and plans, Nigerian media reports said.

The drastic step of a parent to inform on a child is nothing new. More recently, the US families of five young Muslim men who had disappeared contacted US officials with their suspicions. The sons were found in Pakistan, where they face terrorist charges.

In Abdulmutallab’s case, the family said his “disappearance and cessation of communication” had worried the mother and father enough to report him to security agencies.

The young Nigerian was in Dubai from January to June, at the University of Wollongong, where he did not come to the attention of officials, the school’s vice president of administration, Raymi van der Spek, told Gulf News.

In August, Abdulmutallab went to Yemen, where he had a visa to study the Arabic language in Sana’a, the government said. He had already visited Yemen in 2004 and 2005 to study Arabic, Yemen’s Information Minister Hassan al-Lawzi said Tuesday.

The suspect, who has been charged with trying to destroy the aircraft, left Yemen in early December.

At some point, the family’s contacts with security officials pushed Abdulmutallab’s name to the US government TIDE database of half-a-million people who may have links to terrorism. The suspect had not been placed on a more restrictive no-fly list.

On Dec 16, showing his two-year US multiple-entry visa in his Nigerian passport, Abdulmutallab paid $2,831 cash in Accra for the roundtrip ticket to Detroit, according to Harold Demuren, director general of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), as reported in the Nigerian Observer.

“No contact address or telephone contact was given by the purchaser of the ticket at the time of purchase,” Demuren said.

Since the Sep 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, such omissions and cash payments may have raised red flags inside the US, but it’s not clear if that’s true abroad.

Abdulmutallab checked in at Lagos for the fateful journey with only a shoulder bag, according to footage from a Lagos airport closed circuit television system. Checking in without checked luggage for such a long international journey could also have raised a red flag in the US.

Both the Yemen and Nigerian governments are carrying out their own investigations. Yemeni security authorities were not aware of terrorist links, and said Abdulmutallab was not on any list of terrorists submitted by the US to Yemen.

Abdulmutallab has reportedly told US investigators he was trained in Yemen by Al Qaeda, a connection that gained credence when the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the failed attack.

The Yemen connection became even stronger Tuesday when the Guantanamo detention facility on Cuba entered the picture. According to ABC News, which quoted US officials and Defence Department documents, two former detainees of the prison were among four

suspected terrorists that may have plotted the failed attack in Yemen.

Obama, under fire for having kept such a low profile on the case since Christmas, Tuesday slammed his intelligence community for the near “catastrophic breach”.

Obama said Abdulmutallab should never have been allowed on a plane to the US after his father warned US officials last month that his son may have become radicalised.

“When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been … a systemic failure has occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said.

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