After Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit for the foiled Christmas Day attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, U.S. President Barack Obama "emerged from Hawaiian seclusion on Monday to try to quell gathering criticism," the New York Times reported Monday. -- “We will not rest," he said hyperbolically, "until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.” -- “The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season,” he added. -- MEMRI posted on its website a translation of the AQAP statement, which was entitled "In response to the American attack on Yemen." -- The statement said that Abdulmutallab wished to "respond directly to the oppressive American attack on the Arabian peninsula . . . using cluster bombs and cruise missiles that was launched from American ships that occupy the Gulf of Aden . . . on the noble Yemenite tribes in Abyan and Arhab, and finally in Sibwa, [in an attack] that killed scores of Muslim women and children, and families in their entirety." -- However, President Obama's statement about "what we know so far" made no mention of AQAP, much less the attack on Yemen, about which the U.S. has been, as the New York Times put it in a separate article, "coy." -- COMMENT: It would be interesting to compare the number of the Americans who have heard about the attack on the Northwest airliner to the number of Americans who have heard about the dozens of civilians killed in the Yemen attack. -- Reporting on those deaths as well as on the nature of the attack in Yemen in the mainstream media has been determined by what U.S. officials were willing to say, not by events....
OBAMA SEEKS TO ASSURE U.S.; QAEDA GROUP STAKES CLAIM
By Peter Baker, Eric Lipton, and Scott Shane
New York Times
December 28, 2009
HONOLULU -- President Obama emerged from Hawaiian seclusion on Monday to try to quell gathering criticism of his administration’s handling of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner as a branch of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
“We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable,” Mr. Obama told reporters during a break in his 10-day holiday vacation. “This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland.”
He added that he had ordered reviews of the air navigation screening system and the terrorist watch list system. “The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season,” he said.
The president spoke after the branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia claimed responsibility for the attempted attack and said it was in retaliation for recent American-backed attacks on its members in Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant Islamist Web sites.
In a statement issued on jihadist forums, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasted the success of the “Nigerian brother” in breaking through security barriers and of its own explosives technology, SITE reported. Federal authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, tried to set off explosives aboard a trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit on Friday.
The Qaeda branch blamed a technical fault for the low-power detonation, according to SITE. The group has mounted attacks within Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and in 2004 it captured and beheaded a 49-year-old American engineer working in Riyadh, Paul M. Johnson Jr.
Government terror experts said the Qaeda claim was apparently legitimate.
“The statement is certainly credible,” one government official said, “and it reflects this group’s growing desire to strike beyond the Arabian peninsula.”
Mr. Abdulmutallab has told federal authorities that he received training and materials from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with Al Qaeda.
The government of Yemen said in a statement on Monday that Mr. Abdulmutallab had been in Yemen this year from early August to early December “after obtaining a visa to study Arabic at a language institute.”
The statement, issued by the Yemeni embassy in Washington, said Mr. Abdulmutallab had a valid United States visa and other foreign visas. “There was nothing suspicious about his intentions to visit Yemen, especially considering he had also visited the U.S. in the past,” the statement said.
Questions about how Mr. Abdulmutallab slipped through the aviation security system have been compounded by the Obama administration’s assertion over the weekend that “the system worked,” a judgment it reversed Monday.
Just hours before the president’s appearance -- his first public remarks since arriving in Hawaii on Thursday -- Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recalibrated the assessment she and another top official had offered on Sunday. Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, Ms. Napolitano said her remark had been taken out of context and that the thwarted bombing in fact represented a failure of the nation’s aviation security system.
“Our system did not work in this instance,” she said. “No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.”
Until now, Mr. Obama had tried to strike a balance between signaling that he is on top of the situation and not drawing more attention to it than it already was generating. Each day since Friday, his staff accompanying him here in his home state put out statements indicating that the president was holding conference calls and requesting action of government agencies. But he declined for three days to address it in public himself, cognizant perhaps of warnings by some terrorism experts against elevating such incidents and by extension their authors.
Yet the visual contrasts have been jarring. Pictures of passengers enduring tougher security screening at the airport were juxtaposed against images of the president soaking in the sun and surf of this tropical getaway. Appearing at a Marine base near the Kailua beachfront house he has rented, Mr. Obama on Monday praised the “quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew” but made no attempt to defend the security system that allowed the suspect onto the plane with explosives in the first place.
Beyond the reviews, he pledged unspecified action against any groups that were involved. “We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, or anywhere they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland,” Mr. Obama said.
He urged Americans to “remain vigilant but also be confident,” saying that threats against the United States should not be allowed to undermine “the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans.”
The family of Mr. Abdulmutallab said Monday that they had been trying to locate him for weeks and had sought help from Nigerian and American officials. They said they would cooperate with an investigation.
His father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, visited the American Embassy in Abuja on Nov. 19 with a warning that his son had developed radical views, had disappeared, and might have traveled to Yemen, American officials said, but the young man’s visa to enter the United States, which was good until June 2010, was not revoked.
Instead, the officials said Sunday, embassy officials marked his file for a full investigation should he reapply for a visa. And when the information was passed on to Washington, his name was added to 550,000 others with possible terrorist connections -- but not to the no-fly list. That meant no flags were raised when he used cash to buy a ticket to the United States and boarded a plane, checking no bags.
Officials in several countries were working to retrace Mr. Abdulmutallab’s path and to look for security holes. In Nigeria, officials said he arrived in Lagos on Thursday, Christmas Eve, just hours before departing for Amsterdam. American officials were tracking his travels to Yemen, and Scotland Yard investigators were checking on his connections in London, where he studied mechanical engineering from 2005 to 2008 at University College London and was president of the Islamic Society.
Ms. Napolitano was not the only Obama administration official to initially portray the episode, in which passengers and flight attendants subdued Mr. Abdulmutallab and doused the fire he had started, as a test that the air safety system passed. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, echoed the positive comments Ms. Napolitano made on ABC’s “This Week,” saying in an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS that “in many ways, this system has worked.”
But counterterrorism experts and members of Congress were hardly willing to praise what they said was a security system that had proved to be not nimble enough to respond to the ever-creative techniques devised by would-be terrorists.
Congressional leaders said the tip from Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, should have resulted in closer scrutiny of the suspect before he boarded the plane in Amsterdam. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his visa should have been revoked or at least he should have been given a physical pat-down or a full-body scan.
“This individual should not have been missed,” Ms. Collins said in an interview on Sunday. “Clearly, there should have been a red flag next to his name.”
The episode has rejuvenated a debate that began after the 2001 attacks over the proper balance between security and privacy. The government has spent the last several years cutting the size of the watch list, after repeated criticism that too many people were being questioned at border crossings or checkpoints. Now it may be asked to expand it again.
“You are second-guessed one day and criticized on another,” said one Transportation Security Administration official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
Privacy advocates, for example, have tried to stop or at least slow the introduction of advanced checkpoint screening devices that use so-called millimeter waves to create an image of a passenger’s body, so officers can see under clothing to determine if a weapon or explosive has been hidden. Security officers, in a private area, review the images, which are not stored. Legislation is pending in the House that would prohibit the use of this equipment for routine passenger screening.
To date, only 40 of these machines have been installed at 19 airports across the United States -- meaning only a tiny fraction of passengers pass through them. Amsterdam’s airport has 15 of these machines -- more than just about any airport in the world -- but an official there said Sunday that they were prohibited from using them on passengers bound for the United States, for a reason she did not explain.
Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security, and Kip Hawley, who ran the Transportation Security Administration until January, said the new body-scanning machines were a critical tool that should quickly be installed in more airports around the country.
So far, an additional 150 full-body imaging machines have been ordered, but nationwide there are approximately 2,200 checkpoint screening lanes.
For now, American aviation officials have mandated that airports across the world pat down passengers on flights headed to the United States, a practice that in the past has also raised privacy objections.
“I understand people have issue with privacy,” Mr. Hawley said Sunday. “But that is a tradeoff, and what happened on the plane just highlights what the stakes are.”
One subject of the administration’s security review will be the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, the extensive collection of data on more than 500,000 people into which the warning from Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father’s was entered.
A law enforcement official said it was not unusual that a one-time comment from a relative would not place a person on the far smaller no-fly list, which has only 4,000 names, or the so-called selectee list of 14,000 names of people who are subjected to more thorough searches at checkpoints.
The point of the TIDE database, the official said, is to make sure even the most minor suspicious details are recorded so that they can be connected to new data in the future.
“The information goes in there, and it’s available to all the agencies,” the official said. “The point is to marry up data from different sources over time that may indicate an individual might be a terrorist.”
--Reporting was contributed by Adam Nossiter from Lisbon; Senan Murray from Abuja, Nigeria; Imam Imam from Funtua, Nigeria; and Marlise Simons from Paris.
Jihad & terrorism
AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA RELEASES STATEMENT ON JIHADIST WEBSITE CLAIMING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTEMPTED CHRISTMAS DAY TERRORIST ATTACK
Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
December 28, 2009
"In the name of Allah the All-Merciful.
"Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"(The operation of the mujahid brother Omar Al-Farooq the Nigerian).
"In response to the American attack on Yemen.
"Praise be to Allah, who said 'Fight them until there is no *fitna* [strife], and the religion is all Allah's' [Surat Albaqara 2, verse 193].' Prayers and peace be upon the Messenger, the seal of the prophets, who said 'I have been supported with fear [of me] that stretches as far as one-month's walk' [hadith attributed to Jaber bin Abdallah and agreed upon by all collections of hadiths].
"With Allah's grace, the hero mujahid martyrdom-seeker, brother Omar Al-Farooq, carried out a quality operation on an American plane that took off from the Dutch city of Amsterdam to the American city of Detroit, while they were celebrating the Christmas holiday on Friday December 25, 2009, [an operation] which broke through all modern advanced technological equipment and security barriers in world airports, with courage and determination, not fearing death, placing his trust in Allah, breaking with his great act the legend of American and international intelligence, demonstrating its frailty, rubbing their noses in the dust [in humiliation], and making all they have spent upon security technologies a waste for them.
"The unity of Islamic belief and fraternity is what propelled the rich youth of Nigerian origin, the mujahid brother Omar Al-Farooq, to respond directly to the oppressive American attack on the Arabian peninsula, in direct coordination with Allah's grace with the mujahideen in the Arabian peninsula, following the savage bombing using cluster bombs and cruise missiles that was launched from American ships that occupy the Gulf of Aden. All of this was launched on the noble Yemenite tribes in Abyan and Arhab, and finally in Sibwa, [in an attack] that killed scores of Muslim women and children, and families in their entirety. These operations were carried out through Yemenite-American-Saudi coordination, together with some of the neighboring countries.
"The mujahideen brothers in the department of producing weapons managed to produce, with Allah's grace, an explosive device of advanced technological [capabilities], which was tested and proven to be successful and effective, and it was passed through the [airport's] security screening equipment. The martyrdom seeker brother reached his goal, with Allah's grace, but due to Allah's will a malfunction happened which caused only a partial detonation rather than a full one. And we will continue in this path, Allah willing, until we reach our goal so that religion is all Allah's."
The full text of this report is available to MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor Subscribers.
The White House blog
THE PRESIDENT ADDRESSES THE PUBLIC ON THE ATTEMPTED TERRORIST ATTACK
December 28, 2009
Earlier today, the President addressed the public on the recent attempted terrorist attack:
Good morning, everybody. I wanted to take just a few minutes to update the American people on the attempted terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day and the steps we're taking to ensure the safety and security of the country.
The investigation's ongoing. And I spoke again this morning with Attorney General Eric Holder, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, and my counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan. I asked them to keep -- continue monitoring the situation to keep the American people and members of Congress informed.
Here's what we know so far: On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.
Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.
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.
Now, this was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.
The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season.
Since I was first notified of this incident, I've ordered the following actions to be taken to protect the American people and to secure air travel.
First, I directed that we take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public. We made sure that all flights still in the air were secure and could land safely. We immediately enhanced screening and security procedures for all flights, domestic and international. We added federal air marshals to flights entering and leaving the United States. And we're working closely in this country, federal, state, and local law enforcement, with our international partners.
Second, I've ordered two important reviews, because it's absolutely critical that we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism.
The first review involves our watch list system, which our government has had in place for many years to identify known and suspected terrorists so that we can prevent their entry into the United States. Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in this system, but not on a watch list, such as the so-called no-fly list. So I have ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened.
The second review will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.
Third, I've directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women, and children must know that the United States will more -- do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power 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 U.S. homeland.
Finally, the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.
As a nation, we will do everything in our power to protect our country. As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values. That's who we are as Americans; that's what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm's way. And we will continue to do everything that we can to keep America safe in the new year and beyond.