Al Qaeda ties of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: How deep do they go?
Investigations into where alleged Northwest Airlines bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got his explosives point toward Yemen and its local Al Qaeda offshoot. Foreign Policy Magazine's latest Failed State Index named Yemen as particularly troubling.
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Though Abdulmutallab is Nigerian, his mother is from Yemen. Foreign Policy Magazine's latest "Failed States Index" named Yemen as particularly troubling, arguing that "many worry ... [Yemen] is the next Afghanistan: a global problem wrapped in a failed state.” The magazine also said that “refugees and extremists were perhaps Yemen’s most noteworthy imports in 2008" and that "Saudi Al Qaeda members, viewing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as too weak to prevent them from organizing and training, have also poured in."Skip to next paragraph
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Yemen has a roughly 700 mile-long border with Saudi Arabia and close cultural and religious ties to the oil-rich kingdom. Bin Laden's father was a Yemeni immigrant to Saudi Arabia before World War 1, and the country's lawless northern frontier has long been a weapons transit point for Islamist militants fighting the Saudi monarchy.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is believed to be led by the Yemeni Nasir Wuhaishi. The group was created in early 2008 with an announcement that the loosely knit organization's Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches leaderships were being merged.
Since then, in addition to their claim of responsibility for the failed Northwest Airlines attack, they've been involved in a number of attacks. Most intriguingly, the group claimed responsibility for a failed August assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's point man for dismantling Al Qaeda. His would-be assassin posed as a former militant seeking to come in from the cold and arranged a meeting with Prince Nayef. He concealed a bomb that was constructed of PETN, and placed a crude detonator in his underwear. That was the same plastic explosive and method of concealment Abdulmutallab allegedly used.
Some American politicians have speculated that there may be a link between the alleged Nigerian bomber and Anwar al-Awlaki, the US citizen and Yemen-based cleric who appeared to inspire Major Abdul Malik Hasan, the Army doctor accused of murdering 13 of his comrades at Fort Hood in November. Mr. Awlaki was a recent target of a US-backed air strike in Yemen, and until recently ran a popular website urging Sunni Muslims to fight the US, Israel, and other perceived enemies of Islam, and was an e-mail correspondent of Major Hasan's. No evidence has yet emerged that Abdulmutallab was in contact with Awlaki, though Yemen's Foreign Ministry says that he was in the country from early August to early December on a visa to study Arabic in Sanaa, the capital.
Mr. Awlaki claimed on his now-defunct blog that he had been a lecturer at Iman University in Sanaa.
PETN is a widely available explosive, used by world armies and mining companies, usually as an ingredient in plastic explosives like Semtex or in detonation cords. Yemen has long been a major trading and transit hub for weapons. In the summer of 2002, an accidental explosion at a Sanaa warehouse led to the discovery of 650 pounds of Semtex that Yemeni authorities alleged at the time were in the possession of Al Qaeda-linked militants.
As for Abdulmutallab, the recent plot sheds light on an often overlooked fact: While President Barack Obama said in December that "I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda" – most recent international attacks have emanated from elsewhere.