Obama Describes Nigerian As ‘Isolated Extremist,’ Despite Ties to Yemen

December 29, 2009 - 9:50 AM
"This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist," President Obama said on Monday. But was the would-be bomber an isolated extremist?
Obama on airline, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the recent air travel incident on Monday, Dec. 28, 2009, at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama, in his first public comments on the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit, described the suspect as “an isolated extremist,” despite reports that the 23-year-old Nigerian had been trained in Yemen, a country he visited twice.
 
The Associated Press, quoting a Yemeni government official, said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lived in Yemen for two extended periods of time -- a year, from 2004-2005 and again from August-December this year. He apparently was in Yemen a few weeks before the attempt to blow Flight 253 out of the sky over Michigan. (See timeline)

A statement posted online Monday by Al-Qaeda in Yemen (also known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) said its “manufacturing sector” had provided Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with the explosives he took onboard the aircraft. (The United States has not yet authenticated the Web posting, but Abdulmutallab's connection to Yemen is not in doubt.)

Al Qaeda in Yemen is the same group with which Anwar al-Awlaki is affiliated. Awlaki, a U.S.-born imam, preaches a radical form of Islam that may have inspired the Fort Hood killer. As CNSNews.com reported earlier, al-Awlaki described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a "hero" after Hasan allegedly shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood last month. Hasan reportedly had contacted al-Awlaki on numerous occasions before the rampage.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) told ABC News it looks like al-Awlaki "played a role" in the attempt to bomb Flight 253. "All roads point back to Yemen, they point back to Awlaki, I think it is a pretty deadly combination," Hoekstra told ABC's "The Blotter." 

In another twist, ABC News reported that two of the men behind the Flight 253 bombing plot were released from the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay in November 2007 and sent to Saudi Arabia, where they were later freed. They are now said to be leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

President Obama, in recounting what happened in the air over Michigan on Christmas day, used the word “allegedly” to describe the attempted bombing. The president says he’s asked his aides to “continue monitoring the situation.”
 
What follows are Obama’s first remarks on the would-be terror attack, delivered Monday at a military base in Hawaii – three days after Abdulmutallab tried unsuccessfully to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear.

Text of Obama’s prepared remarks:
 
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.