The man who allegedly tried to blow up a transatlantic passenger jet over Detroit has reportedly claimed that he is one from a production line of terrorists that has been trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents others with similar training to him were now ready to launch their own attacks, according to the US network ABC.
The claim came as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released its first communication since the failed bombing. In a written statement it called on “the people of the Arabian peninsula” to attack American military installations, ships and “spying embassies”.
The US Embassy in Yemen was attacked by al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in September 2008, and the USS Cole, a US Navy destroyer, was hit by al-Qaeda in 2000.
The attempted plane bombing on Christmas Day, which was intended to kill all 289 on board, failed only because the bomb’s detonator did not work.
Pete Hoekstra, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said: “I think it’s very clear it came very, very close. The explosive device went off, it became an incendiary device instead of an explosive device, which is probably what saved that airplane.”
President Obama interrupted his Christmas holiday to order two anti-terrorism reviews as aviation chiefs acted to close loopholes that let Mr Abdulmutallab, a known Nigerian extremist, take explosive materials on to the aircraft flying from Amsterdam.
The foiled attack came four days after a video was posted on extremist websites showing an al-Qaeda militant in Yemen warning: “We are carrying a bomb to hit the enemies of God.”
Mr Abdulmutallab, formerly a student in Britain, was overpowered as he tried to detonate explosives apparently sewn into his underpants. He emerged from the toilet, put a blanket on his lap complaining of an upset stomach, then tried to operate the bomb. Passengers and crew restrained him as flames leapt from his clothing.
Michael Rimmer, one of his former high school teachers, called him “a model student, very keen, very enthusiastic”. Efemena Mokedi, a former classmate, said: “He was a very nice, friendly person. He was a person who did a lot of good things.”
In e-mails sent over the last six years, and obtained by ABC News, Mr Abdulmutallab worried whether his religion would allow him to attend a high school prom and also about low college test scores. He expressed opposition to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then prior to breaking with his parents, questioned whether it was okay to lie to deceive the enemy.
Following the attempt, emergency security measures were imposed in the United States and at Heathrow. In the final hour before landing in the US, passengers are now banned from standing up, using toilets and holding blankets. In-flight entertainment is being withdrawn where it includes maps of the plane’s location, for fear bombers will be able to pinpoint targets.
President Obama ordered a review of terrorist suspect lists when it emerged that Mr Abdulmutallab had been placed on a US intelligence database after a tip-off from his father. Officials failed to move him to the “no-fly” list.
The President also demanded a review into how the bomb was allowed on the plane. One security weakness may be transit passengers. The Nigerian suspect appears to have boarded in Lagos where he went through one metal detector and had his bag X-rayed before flying to Amsterdam. It is unclear how heavily he was searched when he changed flights at Schiphol. He managed to get a syringe on board. The bomb also consisted of powder in his underwear.
Fanatical Muslim terrorists have been experimenting to avoid searches. A senior British security source said: “The second novel device to emerge from the Yemen in recent months leads one to wonder if the al-Qaeda R&D [research and development] department has moved there.”