Western mainstream media are misreporting the contents of the Dec. 28 AQAP statement on the bombing of Northwest Flight 253.  --  MEMRI reported the statement said it was carried out 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."  --  The BBC, however, said on Tuesday that AQAP's statement "said the attack had been a response to U.S. attacks against its operatives," with no mention of civilian deaths.[1]  --  Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the statement said that AQAP "was retaliating for what it says was the U.S.'s role in a recent Yemeni military offensive on al Qaeda, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute," which indicates the paper is using the same source.  But there is an erasure of the civilian deaths.[2]  --  COMMENT: It is hard not to conclude that Western media are self-censoring.  --  The Wall Street Journal article discusses the Dec. 17 and 24 airstrikes in some detail but with no mention of the deaths of dozens of civilians.  --  However, these deaths have been reported in dozens of articles (e.g.:  "Mukbel Mohammed Ali al-Ambori, in an interview over phone from al-Majalah . . . said that "A total of 45 women and children, and more than 1000 various animals were killed from the Bedouins of Haidarah and al-Ambor," Yemen Today Magazine, Dec. 23, 2009).  --  They are omitted from the Wall Street Journal account, though:  "U.S. officials have acknowledged providing intelligence assistance for two recent operations, which included air strikes, conducted by the Yemeni government against al Qaeda encampments.  Yemeni officials say at least 30 militants were killed and at least two dozen more were arrested during the attacks Dec. 17 and 24.  The al Qaeda statement claimed that the U.S. military directly fired some of the missiles involved in the attacks.  Three U.S. officials with knowledge of American operations in the country didn't deny American military involvement, but wouldn't comment on the al Qaeda claims.  U.S. officials believe that some of the al Qaeda militants killed by air strikes in Yemen in recent weeks were former Guantanamo Bay inmates."  --  Apparently "that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls" does not burn brightly enough in Yemen to merit acknowledgment....

1.

WESTERN COUNTER-TERRORISM HELP 'NOT ENOUGHT FOR YEMEN'

BBC
December 29, 2009

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8433844.stm


Yemen has said it is not getting enough support from the West to tackle al-Qaeda, as details emerge of the suspected U.S. jet bomber's time there.

Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told the BBC that Yemen had the will and ability to deal with al-Qaeda, but was undermined by a lack of support.

He estimated that several hundred al-Qaeda members were operating in Yemen and could be planning more attacks.

A Yemen-based branch of the network has claimed it planned the failed attack.

Yemeni officials said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up the Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day, was living in Yemen from August until the beginning of December, the official Saba news agency reported.

U.S. officials are said to be concerned there may be more al-Qaeda-trained young men in the country planning to bring down U.S. planes.

In recent weeks, Yemen has launched several major operations against al-Qaeda with U.S. backing, amid fears the troubled country is becoming a major training center for militants.

'EXAGGERATED' DANGER

In an interview for BBC Radio 4's World at One program, Mr. al-Qirbi said the conflict with al-Qaeda was a priority for his government despite wars with Shia rebels in the north and with separatists in the south.

Yemen was getting some support in this conflict but it was inadequate, he added.

"We need more training.  We have to expand our counter terrorism units and this means providing them with the necessary training, military equipment, ways of transportation -- we are very short of helicopters.

"The United States can do a lot, Britain can do a lot, the European Union can do a lot in that regard," he said.

He said he thought that 200-300 al-Qaeda members were operating in Yemen, but that this was just a rough guess.

"Of course there are a number in Yemen and they may actually plan for attacks as in Detroit," he said.

But Mr. al-Qirbi said warnings about the situation made by U.S. officials like Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command, were overstated and "exaggerated in some media."

GUANTANAMO LINK


Mr. Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempting to blow up the Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 from Amsterdam, which had nearly 300 people on board, as it made its final descent into Detroit on Friday.

The 23-year-old, who is being held at a federal prison in the U.S. state of Michigan, was restrained by passengers and crew while allegedly trying to detonate a high-explosive device sewn inside his underwear.

He has reportedly told FBI investigators that al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen had supplied him with the bomb and that there were others like him who would strike soon.  His family says it lost contact with him in October.

On Monday a web posting by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including a photograph purportedly of Mr. Abdulmutallab in front of its banner, said the attack had been a response to U.S. attacks against its operatives.

On Tuesday, an official at the Yemeni foreign ministry said that the Migration and Passport Authority had confirmed that Mr. Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen at the beginning of August to study at the Sanaa Institute for the Arabic Language (SIAL) and left for Ethiopia four months later.

ABC News earlier reported that among the group who planned the alleged attack were two men who were released by the U.S. from its Guantanamo Bay detention center in November 2007.

Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi, also known as Mohammed al-Awfi, and Said Ali al-Shihri were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were admitted to an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and later set free, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

Both men appeared in a video in January along with the man described as the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi.

2.

Middle East news

AL QAEDA TAKES CREDIT FOR PLOT

By Peter Spiegel and Jay Solomon (Washington) and Margaret Coker (Abu Dhabi)

Wall Street Journal

December 29, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126209221278008901.html


WASHINGTON -- Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on Northwest Flight 253, and U.S. officials said the claim appears valid -- the clearest indication yet that the attempted takedown wasn't just the work of a lone radical inspired by Islamist rhetoric, as some investigators initially believed.

The development came as evidence mounted that the U.S. didn't pursue potential leads that might have brought alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the attention of authorities, according to Congressional investigators and U.S. officials.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano backtracked Monday from comments she made in televised interviews over the weekend, in which she said the U.S.'s security systems had worked.  President Barack Obama, in his first public comments about the incident, promised the government would do everything it can to keep travelers secure.  "We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," Mr. Obama said in remarks broadcast on television from Hawaii, where he is on vacation.

A statement attributed to the group "al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" claimed it was retaliating for what it says was the U.S.'s role in a recent Yemeni military offensive on al Qaeda, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.  The statement, accompanied by a photo of the suspect, said the "high-tech device" Mr. Abdulmutallab carried had had a "technical" problem.

"The claim at this point appears valid," said one U.S. counterterrorism official.  However, the depth of the relationship between the terror group and Mr. Abdulmutallab is still unclear.

The explosive used by Mr. Abdulmutallab, a substance known as PETN, is believed to have been used in the attempted assassination in late August of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi deputy interior minister and point man on the war on terror.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that attack.

Mr. Abdulmutallab's method of concealing the device -- sewn into his underwear, where security personnel are unlikely to conduct a pat down -- is similar to the Saudi attack.

The administration's initial public response has come under criticism from Republican lawmakers.  Ms. Napolitano, who has come under fire for saying the system to detect terror threats worked, on Monday said that her initial comments were taken out of context.  On NBC's "Today" show, she said that "our system did not work in this instance.  No one is happy or satisfied with that."

The Yemeni government said Mr. Abdulmutallab had spent the four months preceding the botched plot inside Yemen.  He entered the country to study Arabic at a language institute where he had studied before, according to Yemen's foreign ministry, and his passport had a valid U.S. 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 foreign ministry said in the statement.

Mr. Abdulmutallab lived in Yemen for two different periods of time, a year from 2004-2005 and from August-December this year, a Yemeni government official said Tuesday.

A senior U.S. military official said of Mr. Abdulmutallab's ties to Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate:  "I don't think he was one of their great arrows, but he's a guy who radicalized pretty quickly, and they accepted him and allowed him to do some things."

Al Qaeda's growing presence in Yemen could prove problematic for President Obama, in particular as he hastens to complete the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  Roughly half the 215 detainees in Cuba are Yemeni nationals, and the Pentagon has concluded 60 remain national security threats.

U.S. investigators are looking into whether any former Saudi or Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo played a role in the Christmas plot.  Six Yemeni nationals were repatriated from Guantanamo last week. A U.S. official working on Middle East policy said Monday that the revelations about al Qaeda's operations in Yemen "will make it very difficult to return more."

Mr. Abdulmutallab's Yemen connection likely will focus attention on U.S. counterterrorism activities in that country.  After receiving no funding for counterterrorism assistance in Yemen in 2008, the Pentagon was given $67 million this year.  U.S. officials say the Obama administration is weighing a substantial increase for next year.

U.S. officials have acknowledged providing intelligence assistance for two recent operations, which included air strikes, conducted by the Yemeni government against al Qaeda encampments.  Yemeni officials say at least 30 militants were killed and at least two dozen more were arrested during the attacks Dec. 17 and 24.

The al Qaeda statement claimed that the U.S. military directly fired some of the missiles involved in the attacks.  Three U.S. officials with knowledge of American operations in the country didn't deny American military involvement, but wouldn't comment on the al Qaeda claims.

U.S. officials believe that some of the al Qaeda militants killed by air strikes in Yemen in recent weeks were former Guantanamo Bay inmates.

Although U.S. officials haven't been vocal about American involvement in the region, the Yemeni government has.  In a recent interview, Ali Al-Anisi, a senior security aide to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the director of the president's office, said the government was determined to rid Yemen of al Qaeda and was cooperating with U.S. officials in that fight.  "There is coordination and collaboration in the fight against terror," he said.

The Obama administration has seen marked improvement in U.S.-Yemen counterterrorism cooperation over the past two months as signs of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen have grown.  Mr. Saleh's shift, said a U.S. official working on Middle East policy, was driven in part by pressure from Saudi Arabia following the attempted assassination of Prince Nayef.

U.S. military involvement in Yemen dates back several years to when the Pentagon sent two Special Operations advisers to assess Yemeni needs.  Since then, U.S. Special Operations forces have trained both Yemeni special operations teams, run by Mr. Saleh's son, and its counterterrorism forces.

More recently, the Pentagon has pushed for a more permanent presence in Yemen, but civilian agencies have balked, in part because of worries about whether Mr. Saleh will use his increased capabilities against Islamists or against domestic political enemies.

U.S. counterterrorism officials are concerned that Yemen is emerging as a new safe haven for Arab, African and South Asian militants.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is headed by a Yemeni, Abu Basir al-Wahishi, but many of his top lieutenants are believed to be Saudi.  In all, the organization is believed to have between 50 and 100 fighters in Yemen.

The U.S. officials are concerned about the threat posed to Saudi Arabia.  The organization has shown a willingness to conduct cross-border raids, and its Saudi members are thought to have access to Saudi funding.

--Summer Said, Siobhan Gorman, Peter Wallsten and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Write to Peter Spiegel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Jay Solomon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Margaret Coker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.