U.S. President Barack Obama has for the first time publicly linked a Yemeni-based Al-Qaeda affiliate to the alleged Christmas Day suicide mission to blow up a U.S. airliner.
In his weekly radio and video address published on the White House website today, Obama said the 23-year-old suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been trained and armed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Nigerian man, who is now in the U.S. custody, is charged with the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it carried 278 passengers on Christmas Day from Amsterdam to the U.S. city of Detroit.
In his address, Obama said more details about Abdulmutallab are emerging during the investigations.
“We know that [Abumutallab] travelled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, and that this group -- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America,” Obama said.
The president said it was not the first time Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni-based affiliate targeted Yemeni and Western interests.
Obama said, “in recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants, and embassies,” including the U.S. embassy in 2008, killing one American.
The U.S. president said he has made it his priority to strengthen Washington’s partnership with the Yemeni government, “training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence, and working with them to strike Al-Qaeda terrorists.”
Republicans have criticized Obama for not doing enough to prevent terror attacks on the United States.
In his latest address, the president summarized his administration’s efforts in fighting terrorism and protecting safety and security of the American people since the day he took office nearly a year ago.
The president said the United States has been doing whatever it takes to defeat what he called “a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” while upholding “the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”
“It’s why I 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-Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's why I've set a clear and achievable mission -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent their return to either country,” Obama said.
The president last week ordered two probes into the Christmas Day incident.
One probe will be a reassessment of the no-fly list system that is supposed to keep terrorism suspects off airplanes and out of the United States.
Abdulmutallab’s father reportedly warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son had apparently joined terrorist groups in Yemen. Despite that warning, Abdulmutallab was given a U.S. visa.
Another, separate, probe will investigate how Abdulmuttalab managed to smuggle an explosive device past security at Amsterdam airport. Abdulmutallab reportedly strapped the explosives to his underwear.
Obama is expected to meet with heads of intelligence agencies and relevant government departments early next week to discuss the preliminary findings from the probes.
Intelligence officials will also be questioned in a U.S. Congress hearing over the security failings.