Obama links al Qaida affiliate to Christmas bombing attempt

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 2, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Saturday blamed an al Qaida affiliate for training and equipping the man who allegedly smuggled explosives aboard a Detroit-bound airliner in a failed bombing plot on Christmas Day.

The president gave his most detailed comments to date on the bombing attempt. A 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 carrying explosives. Quick action by other passengers thwarted his alleged attempt to detonate them.

Obama said Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen, where "it appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaida, and that this group, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America."

The same group killed one American in a bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in 2008, Obama said. It also has bombed Yemeni government facilities, Western hotels, restaurants and other embassies in recent years, he said.

Obama said the U.S. would strengthen its cooperation with the government of Yemen to train and equip Yemeni security forces and share intelligence in a fight against al Qaida terrorists.

The president, in his weekly radio address, also attempted to reassure Americans, saying that his job included "the solemn responsibility that I carry with me every moment of every day — the responsibility to protect the safety and security of the American people."

Obama said the United States was fighting terrorism and making some progress. He said he had "refocused the fight — bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and dramatically increasing our resources in the region where al Qaida is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The U.S. was working with other countries to "put unrelenting pressure on these extremists wherever they plot and train," he added. He said the United States and its partners had "disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al Qaida's leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives."

The president also said that the White House was studying what intelligence flaws allowed Abdulmutallab to board the plane.

Also on Saturday, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, said in a statement that the attempted bombing on the Christmas Day flight was "the starkest of reminders of the insidious terrorist threats we face."

"While this attempt ended in failure we know with absolute certainty that al Qaida and those who support its ideology continue to refine their methods to test our defenses and pursue an attack on the homeland," Leiter said. "Our most sacred responsibility is to be focused on our mission — detecting and preventing terrorist attacks from happening on our soil and against U.S. interests."

Abdulmutallab had a valid U.S. visa and his name wasn't on a no-fly list or enhanced screening list even though his father had warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria weeks earlier of his son's extremist connections in Yemen.

Obama said he would "do everything in my power to make sure our hard-working men and women in our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities have the tools and resources they need to keep America safe. This includes making sure these communities — and the people in them — are coordinating effectively and are held accountable at every level."

Obama reviewed preliminary results of an investigation while vacationing with his family in Hawaii. He said the White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan, was leading the review and would present final results and make recommendations. The president earlier said that he'd meet on Tuesday in Washington with heads of government agencies to discuss the investigation and the next steps.

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