Abdulmutallab’s double life

Fellow students at the Arabic language school in Yemen saw Abdulmutallab as a pleasant, respectful person who enjoyed children and non-Muslims. Some were shocked to learn he was harboring a hidden desire to attack the US in a suicide bombing for al-Qaida. But Alexander Ali, a tour guide in Sana’a who socializes with students at the school claims he was friendly on the surface but was always sure never to let anyone get to close.

Ali says Abdulmutallab mentioned “talked a bit about Israel and America; said the Americans, not Muslims, are very bad.”

Some who knew him in Yemen maintain it was impossible to know he was associated with al-Qaida: his visas for the US were in order, and school officials arranged his exit visa and transport to the airport after the class was finished.

Abdulmutallab reported to the FBI that he had been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni cleric connected to Major Hasan who allegedly recruits violent jihadists from the West.

Abdulmutallab’s time in Yemen: was Arabic course a cover?

Abdulmutallab is said to have spend six months in Yemen, but officials at the San’a Institute for the Arabic Language claim he was only enrolled during the month of Ramadan which began in late August. One of his teachers said Abdulmutallab spent the last 10 days of Ramadan in a mosque, attending the 20-hour course for about 4 hours.

The question of exactly what he did during the rest of his time remains unanswered, although he has told authorities he received training and instructions from al-Qaida in Yemen.

Abdulmutallab is also said to have already had Arabic skills upon enrollment. School director Muhammed al-Anisi believes he may have used the school as a formal pretext to legally enter Yemen after being recruited by al-Qaida. He believes al-Qaida may have organized his time at the school in order to train him.

After the course was finished, an exit visa was arranged for Abdulmutallab as well as a cab to the airport. But he never left Yemen. Experts think he may have gone straight to Yemen’s al-Qaida training grounds, emerging on an aircraft Christmas Day with a bomb.

The incident raises concerns about Yemen, largely lawless and rapidly become an al-Qaida haven.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Penninsula, the Yemei branch of the group who claims responsibility for the attack, formed in January when Saudi and Yemeni members joined forces.

The US and Yemen are researching possible retaliation targets in Yemen, should President Obama order them.

Dutch to use body scanners for US-bound flights

The Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is requiring all US-bound travelers to undergo full body scans as part of the security screening process. They will be employing the scanners within three weeks.

Interior minister Guusje ter Horst says the US disapproved of Dutch use of scanners due to privacy issues. Washington and ter Horst now agree that “all possible measures will be used on flights to the US.”

US Homeland Security Department deny that they ever discouraged the use of scanners.

The EU has not approved routine use of the machines. The new rule will require permission from the European parliament, and a change in legislation is required. The European Commission is meeting with member states next week to discuss the matter.

US authorities failed to connect Abdulmutallab with al-Qaida’s attack plans, Obama criticizes

Authorities say the National Security Agency (NSA) knew in August 2009 that a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen might try to use a Nigerian for a terrorist attack on Christmas Day. Had the information been examined together with information the State Department, the CIA, and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) put together in October 2009 based on conversations with Abdulmutallab’s father, it may have provided what was needed to uncover the pending attack.

The terrorist’s father gave the US Embassy in Nigeria, including the CIA and the State Department, text messages from his son that indicated his radicalization. “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat,” his cousin quoted him as saying. He never directly accused his son of planning to bomb a plane.

In November 2009 upon the warnings, the CIA alerted NCTC, who put his name on the half-million large terrorism watch list. The CIA also compiled biographical data on Abdulmutallab but did not share it with other security agencies. They also decided there was not enough information about him to pursue moving him to smaller, more refined lists of people who require extra scrutiny at airports.

Routine procedure also had an e-notice of Abdulmutallab’s purchase of a plane ticket sent to homeland security officials on December 16.

“The right information did not get to the right people—there’s no question about that,” a senior intelligence official said. “If all known information had been provided, we would have been down a different path.”

Some blame the NCTC for the failure, which was created in 2004 collate information from across the US’s national security system. Others blame the CIA.

Some officials feel information is being shared, and that isn’t the problem. It’s the volume of information collected. Setting thresholds of what’s pointing to impending violence amidst huge amounts of data can be tricky.

Obama calls it a systematic failure that is totally unacceptable.

Republicans are using the failure as ammunition against democrats, positioning Obama as a president who won’t take security seriously enough. Democrats are accusing Republicans of blocking needed resource increases while exploiting public fear.

Abdulmutallab had passport, contrary to eyewitness report

Abdulmutallab is said to have presented a passport in the Amsterdam airport, contrary to Kurt Haskell’s report. Haskell claims to have seen Abdulmutallab with a well-dressed Indian man who told ticket agents Abdulmutallab “doesn’t have a passport…he’s from Sudan. We do this all the time.”

The passport was valid and from Nigeria, and had a valid US visa.

Abdulmutallab’s radicalization began in Togo, continued on in London, but solidified in Yemen

According to authorities, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s radicalization began during his days in private school in Togo, and continued on during his time in London.
But the crucial point in his radicalization process occurred on his trip to Yemen earlier this year to study Arabic for six months at the Institute for the Arabic Language. Students there say he was obsessed with piety and was lonely, with no close friends.

His radicalization process was gathering intensity in London. Security sources say they knew he was connected to extremists in London who were under M15 surveillance for criminal activities, although his name was on no watch list. He was categorized as one of several thousand who come into contact with those under surveillance.

Authorities say he was trying to “begin a journey”, but nothing suggested he wanted to pursue violence. “Many young people start on the same route, but very few complete it. Very very large numbers of people come across the radar, very very few of them engage in terrorism.”

He attended the East London mosque in Whitechapel three times, although a spokesperson for the mosque denies knowledge of his attendance. “We don’t recognize him at all. The mosque has a large, loyal community and they are stunned and upset that one person can affect the perceptions of the community. The mosque has been kicking out radical preachers since 1990.”

Abdulmutallab organized a “War on Terror Week” conference in 2007 and gave a presentation called “Jihad vs. Terrorism,” where he discussed “the Islamic position with respect to jihad.” He gave no indication that he supported violent jihad.

Terrorists aren’t always the economically downtrodden

Both Major Hasan and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came from middle or upper class families, suggesting extremists tend more often to be intellectuals with a grievance, concept, and desire for power. This challenges the theory that the radicalized lack better options.

Terror plot highlights problem of radicalism in UK

Charles Allen, a retired CIA officer and Bush intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security says “The British have an immense problem. There are more challenges in Muslim immigrants integrating into British society than there is in America, a lack of assimilation, a great deal of alienation.”

He feels al-Qaida has worked much harder “to get Westerners, people who live in the West, who may be citizens of the West” for training in tribal strongholds.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now Yemen

Before Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack, the Obama Administration had increased military aid to $70 million in Yemen to thwart growing al-Qaida terrorism operations: al-Qaida units that were dismantled after 9/11 have returned, along with new fighters from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia. Prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay are also involved.

But Yemen’s problems will require a broader approach that encompasses its political, social, and economic issues if the US is to contend with al-Qaida. Its government, repressive and failing, is reluctant to go after al-Qaida. A separatist movement is taking shape in the south, and an armed insurgency poses a threat from the north. Its unemployment rate is 40 percent, and it is running out of water and its economic mainstay, oil. Its central location and ethnic hospitability add to its attractiveness for al-Qaida: Middle Eastern operatives can move in and blend in easier there than South Asia or Africa.

The Obama Administration is working with the World Bank, Saudi Arabia, and Europe on a plan for Yemen and will meet to develop a framework in six weeks. Stabilizing Yemen is key in destabilizing al-Qaida. But a senior Yemeni official points out seeing any counterterrorism efforts materialize into results will take months, if not years.

More full body scanners will be installed at airports this year, privacy debate ensues

After Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a jetliner en route to the US on Christmas Day, American airports plan to triple the number of full body scanners from 40 to 150. The machines have led a debate on where the line should be drawn on security measures to preserve the privacy of citizens.

Analysts call the scans virtual strip searches, as they can see through passenger clothing, creating naked images of passengers. ACLU Washington Legislative Office policy counsel Michael German says they will not detect explosives hidden in body cavities, making them both ineffective, inconvenient, and personally invasive.

Naked images could be shared through the internet, but measures are being taken to prevent this.

They are also expensive. At a cost of $150,000 each, aviation and business experts say there will be a rise in air travel costs in order to pay for the machines. Increasing costs concern not only passengers but also airlines, who have struggled to stay in business.