SAN’A, Yemen — Yemeni investigators pieced together the movements and contacts of the Nigerian suspect in the botched Christmas Day airline attack, questioning for a second day on Tuesday the principal of a school where he studied.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent two extended periods in Yemen, as recently as this month, said Yemeni Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy. Investigators said Mr. Abdulmutallab spent at least part of the time studying Arabic at a school in the capital of San’a, where students and administrators described him as friendly and outgoing with no overtly extremist views. As part of the investigation, the principal of a school where he studied was being questioned.
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Mr. Abdulmutallab told his parents only a few months ago that he wanted to study Islamic Sharia law, something his father said he couldn’t do. Mr. Abdulmutallab’s response was a text message from an unknown cell phone number saying he never would talk to his family again, Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili said Tuesday.
U.S. authorities have been trying to determine how Mr. Abdulmutallab, 23, managed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with explosives even though he was flagged on a watch list as a possible terrorist. U.S. officials have said he told investigators after his arrest that he received training in Yemen.
The Yemeni information minister said the United States never shared its suspicions about Mr. Abdulmutallab with Yemen, a largely lawless country that has turned into a key stronghold for al Qaeda.
“We didn’t get any notice from the Americans to put this man on a list,” Mr. al-Lozy said. “America should have told Yemen about this man, as they have of others.”
Mr. Abdulmutallab lived in Yemen for two different periods — a year in 2004-05 and from August to December this year, he said. Mr. Abdulmutallab arrived in August after receiving a visa to study Arabic in San’a.
Yemen’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that Mr. Abdulmutallab received a Yemeni visa after authorities were reassured that he had “several visas from a number of friendly countries.” It noted that Mr. Abdulmutallab had a valid visa for the United States, which he had visited in the past. The embassy now has been instructed not to issue any more visas to students who want to study in the country without Interior Ministry approval.
The San’a Institute for the Arabic Language told the Associated Press that Mr. Abdulmutallab was an Arabic student at the school in August. That has raised questions about what he did the rest of his time in Yemen. Administrators at the school said Monday that the director of the school, Muhammad al-Anisi, has been questioned by Yemeni security officials. He remained in custody Tuesday.
Mr. al-Lozy later told the Associated Press that authorities also are looking into Mr. Abdulmutallab’s frequent visits to a mosque in the old, historic part of the city and the people he was with during his stay in Yemen.
Students and administrators at the institute said Mr. Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza.
The students and administrators spoke on condition of anonymity because Yemeni security authorities have ordered them not to talk to the media.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted attack on the airliner and said it was retaliation for a U.S. operation against the group in Yemen. More than 60 militants were killed last week in airstrikes believed to have been carried out with U.S. assistance.