The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told The Washington Times.
The intelligence official, who is familiar with the FBI’s interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, said the bombing suspect has boasted of his jihad training during interrogation by the FBI and has said it included final exhortations by Mr. al-Awlaki.
“It was Awlaki who indoctrinated him,” the official said. “He was told, ‘You are going to be the tip of the spear of the Muslim nation.’”
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit Monday for the Christmas Day attack on Northwest Airlines 253, an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. The al Qaeda group and U.S. officials both say Mr. Abdulmutallab was able to smuggle explosive powder in his underwear and only a detonator failure prevented him from blowing up the plane and killing almost 300 passengers and crew.
Mr. al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who formerly led a large Northern Virginia mosque but now lives in Yemen, has gained considerable public notoriety in recent months because of his influence on Maj. Nidal Hasan, another U.S.-born Muslim.
Mr. al-Awlaki had e-mail contact with Maj. Hasan as many as 20 times from December 2008 until the Fort Hood shootings, where Maj. Hasan is accused of killing 13 people. Mr. al-Awlaki praised Maj. Hasan’s actions as a “hero” and said all Muslims in the U.S. military should “follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.”
Several British news sources, including Sky News and the Daily Mail, have reported, in vague terms, that authorities suspect unspecified links between Mr. Abdulmutallab and Mr. al-Awlaki. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has said an al-Awlaki/Abdulmutallab link “appears” to be the case.
“It appears that just like with Major Hasan, Awlaki played a role in this,” he told ABC News. “All roads point back to Yemen; they point back to Awlaki. I think it is a pretty deadly combination.”
According to the U.S. intelligence official, Mr. Abdulmutallab cited Maj. Hasan in his interrogations, but only to praise his religion’s diversity, as “an example of how Islam accepts even American soldiers.”
Mr. Abdulmutallab did not show any operational knowledge of the Army major or the Fort Hood attack.
In his FBI interrogation, according to the U.S. intelligence official, Mr. Abdulmutallab spoke of being in a room in Yemen receiving Muslim blessings and prayers from Mr. al-Awlaki, along with a number of other men “all covered up in white martyrs’ garments,” and known only by code names and “abu” honorifics.
The official said such clothing and the lack of familiarity among the men suggests al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula intends to use the men in that room in suicide missions.
The intelligence official’s description comes in the wake of several reports that Yemen is breeding scores of jihadists ready to strike the West.
Yemen’s top diplomat said Tuesday that hundreds of al Qaeda militants are in his country and pleaded for foreign help and intelligence in rooting them out.