Kaneohe, Hawaii (AFP) Dec 29, 2009
President Barack Obama has vowed to hunt down extremists wherever they plot attacks against the United States, as Al-Qaeda said it hatched the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner.
Obama pledged Monday to "disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us -- whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland."
The president said he had ordered a probe to find out how 23-year-old suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria managed to board a Detroit-bound plane from Amsterdam with an explosive device.
"A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," Obama said in his first public comments since the botched attack.
As millions of edgy air travelers endured stringent new security measures for flights around the globe, Obama was under massive pressure to ease frayed nerves and counter accusations his administration is soft on terror.
"This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland," Obama said, three days after catastrophe was narrowly averted on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
An Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Arabian peninsula claimed Monday it was behind the failed bombing and threatened new attacks on the West.
In an Internet posting the group said a "technical fault" caused the plot's failure, SITE Intelligence said.
The statement was accompanied by a picture of Abdulmutallab, who was described as the "Nigerian brother," and boasted he "was able to breach all the modern and sophisticated technologies and checkpoints at the airports around the world," according to IntelCenter, another US monitoring group.
"His act has dealt a huge blow to the myth of American and global intelligence services and showed how fragile its structure is."
According to charging documents, Abdulmutallab tried to bring down the Airbus A330 with 290 people on board using a device containing the explosive PETN, also known as pentaerythritol.
The explosive material was allegedly sewn into his underwear and officials believe tragedy was averted only because the makeshift detonator failed to work properly before fellow passengers jumped on the would-be bomber.
Obama has ordered a review of US no-fly lists after it emerged that Abdulmutallab was on a broad terrorist watch-list of 500,000 names but still had a valid US visa.
He was added to the watch-list last month after his father told US embassy officials in Abuja that he was concerned by his son's increasing radicalism, but he was not on a no-fly list of roughly 4,000 names.
Obama's security chief demanded to know how Abdulmutallab retained his visa, while Britain confirmed the 23-year-old had been placed on its security blacklist in May this year.
"Clearly this individual should not have been able to board this plane carrying that material," said US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The suspect was moved from a hospital to a federal prison west of Detroit on Sunday. He is not due to appear in court until he is arraigned on January 8.
With renewed questions being asked about air security, travelers in the United States were told to check in four hours ahead of scheduled departure times, while bomb-sniffing dogs were visible at airports across the country.
In Nigeria, Abdulmutallab's family promised their full cooperation with security agencies and said his recent behavior had been "completely out of character."
According to The New York Times, Abdulmutallab told FBI agents he was connected to an Al-Qaeda affiliate that operates largely in Yemen and Saudi Arabia by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted online.
US law enforcement officials, quoted anonymously by US media, have said the suspect confessed to receiving specific training for the attack from an Al-Qaeda bombmaker in Yemen.
Yemen confirmed that Abdulmutallab was still in the country earlier this month, after the local Al-Qaeda branch claimed the attempted bombing.
"He stayed in Yemen between the beginning of August and the beginning of December, after having received a visa to study Arabic at an institute in Sanaa where he had previously studied," a Yemeni foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Saba news agency.
The spokesman did not provide details on Abdulmutallab's previous stay in Yemen, saying only that Yemen gave him a visa after security officials were "reassured that he had been granted visas by friendly countries, and still held a valid visa to the US, where he had visited before."
China meanwhile said it had stepped up security on flights after the incident on a US-bound passenger jet.
"After the incident of the failed bomb attack, the Chinese civil aviation authority has coordinated with the US side to strengthen security checks on our flights," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing.
China says it faces a serious terrorist threat from Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, but rights groups have accused Beijing of exaggerating the danger to justify repression in the vast region bordering Central Asia.
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US steps up anti-terror campaign in Yemen: report
Washington (AFP) Dec 27, 2009
The United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against the Al-Qaeda terror network in Yemen, The New York Times reported late Sunday. Citing an unnamed former top CIA official, the newspaper said that a year ago the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country. At the same time, some of the most secretive spe ... read more
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