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Political Notebook

Bin Laden affiliate in Yemen behind attack on plane, Obama says

THWARTED ATTACK President Obama said Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula trained and equipped the alleged attacker. THWARTED ATTACK
President Obama said Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula trained and equipped the alleged attacker.
Associated Press / January 3, 2010

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HONOLULU - An Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen apparently ordered the Christmas Day plot against a US airliner, training and arming the 23-year-old Nigerian man accused in the failed bombing, President Obama said yesterday.

“This is not the first time this group has targeted us,’’ Obama said, reporting on some of the findings of an administration review into how intelligence agencies failed to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253.

In his most direct public language to date, Obama described the path through Yemen of Abdulmutallab. He also emphasized that the United States would continue its partnerships with friendly countries - citing Yemen, in particular - to fight terrorists and extremist groups.

Obama’s homeland security team has been piecing together just how Abdulmutallab was able to get on the plane. Officials have described flaws in the system and by those executing the strategy and have delivered a preliminary assessment.

A senior administration official had said the United States was increasingly certain that there was a link between Abdulmutallab and an Al Qaeda affiliate, but Obama’s statement was the strongest connection between the two.

“We know that he traveled 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,’’ the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

Officials have said Abdulmutallab’s father warned the US Embassy in Nigeria that his son had drifted into extremism in the Al Qaeda hotbed of Yemen. Abdulmutallab’s threat was only partially digested by the US security apparatus and not linked with a visa history showing that the young man could fly to the United States.

Obama has ordered a thorough look at the shortcomings that permitted the plot, which failed not because of US actions but because the would-be attacker was unable to ignite an explosive device. Obama has summoned homeland security officials to meet with him in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday.

Intelligence officials prepared for what was shaping up to be uncomfortable hearings before Congress about miscommunication among antiterrorism agencies and sweeping changes expected under Obama’s watch.

Obama noted that in recent years, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen has bombed government facilities there as well as Western hotels, restaurants, and embassies. An attack on the US Embassy in 2008 killed one American.

“I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government - training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence, and working with them to strike Al Qaeda terrorists,’’ he said.

The United States gave Yemen $67 million in training and support under the Pentagon’s counterterrorism program last year. Only Pakistan got more, some $112 million.

Senate GOP leader says US will overcome challenges
WASHINGTON - Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, says the United States will overcome war, recession, and double-digit unemployment.

Challenges will be met, better days are ahead, and the nation’s leaders will unite for the common good despite sometimes sharp political disagreements, which are the hallmark of a vibrant democracy, McConnell said in the GOP’s weekly radio and Internet address yesterday.