How the “Underwear Bomber” Met Anwar al-Awlaki

by Florian Flade

“Underwear Bomber”  – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in blowing up an American airliner over Detroit in December 2009. The Nigerian had been sent by Al-Qaida in Yemen to carry out his deadly mission. But how did he get in touch with the terrorist network? FBI documents reveal the Abdulmutallab´s journey into the Yemeni heartland of terror.

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On Christmas Day 2009 a young Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded US-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. He did not raise any suspicion until he tried to set fire to his pants when the airplane was flying over Detroit. Other passengers tackled the young African man to the ground, preventing him from carrying out his deadly mission: to blow up the airliner over the US with an explosive device hidden in his underwear.

Before he started his suicidal mission, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, son of wealthy Nigerian banker, had lived in Yemen for several months. The devout Muslim had made contact with one of the most dangerous Jihadi clerics – late Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Yemeni preacher who was killed in a US drone strike in September 2011. Awlaki arranged for the ambitious Nigerian a trip to the training camps of Al-Qaida in Yemen.

Abdulmutallab, the so-called failed “Underwear Bomber” was sentenced to life in prison by a US court on February 16. New court documents reveal how Abdulmutallab came in touch with Awlaki and how he was guided into the inner core of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Here is an excerpt from a FBI document highlighting Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab´s journey in Yemen and his meeting with Anwar al-Awlaki.

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“In August 2009, defendant left Dubai, where he had been taking graduate classes, and traveled to Yemen. For several years, defendant had been following the online teachings of Anwar Awlaki, and he went to Yemen to try to meet him in order to discuss the possibility of becoming involved in jihad. Defendant by that time had become committed in his own mind to carrying out an act of jihad, and was contemplating “martyrdom;” i.e., a suicide operation in which he and others would be killed.

Once in Yemen, defendant visited mosques and asked people he met if they knew how he could meet Awlaki. Eventually, defendant made contact with an individual who in turn made Awlaki aware of defendant’s desire to meet him. Defendant provided this individual with the number for his Yemeni cellular telephone.

Thereafter, defendant received a text message from Awlaki telling defendant to call him, which defendant did. During their brief telephone conversation, it was agreed that defendant would send Awlaki a written message explaining why he wanted to become involved in jihad. Defendant took several days to write his message to Awlaki, telling him of his desire to become involved in jihad, and seeking Awlaki’s guidance. After receiving defendant’s message, Awlaki sent defendant a response, telling him that Awlaki would find a way for defendant to become involved in jihad.

Thereafter, defendant was picked up and driven through the Yemeni desert. He eventually arrived at Awlaki’s house, and stayed there for three days. During that time, defendant met with Awlaki and the two men discussed martyrdom and jihad. Awlaki told defendant that jihad requires patience but comes with many rewards. Defendant understood that Awlaki used these discussions to evaluate defendant’s commitment to and suitability for jihad. Throughout, defendant expressed his willingness to become involved in any mission chosen for him, including martyrdom – and by the end of his stay, Awlaki had accepted defendant for a martyrdom mission.

Defendant left Awlaki’s house, and was taken to another house, where he met AQAP bomb- maker Ibrahim Al Asiri. Defendant and Al Asiri discussed defendant’s desire to commit an act of jihad. Thereafter, Al Asiri discussed a plan for a martyrdom mission with Awlaki, who gave it final approval, and instructed Defendant Abdulmutallab on it. For the following two weeks, defendant trained in an AQAP camp, and received instruction in weapons and indoctrination in jihad. During his time in the training camp, defendant met many individuals, including Samir Khan.

Ibrahim Al Asiri constructed a bomb for defendant’s suicide mission and personally delivered it to Defendant Abdulmutallab. This was the bomb that defendant carried in his underwear on December 25, 2009. Al Asiri trained defendant in the use of the bomb, including by having defendant practice the manner in which the bomb would be detonated; that is, by pushing the plunger of a syringe, causing two chemicals to mix, and initiating a fire (which would then detonate the explosive).

Awlaki told defendant that he would create a martyrdom video that would be used after the defendant’s attack. Awlaki arranged for a professional film crew to film the video. Awlaki assisted defendant in writing his martyrdom statement, and it was filmed over a period of two to three days. The full video was approximately five minutes in length.

Although Awlaki gave defendant operational flexibility, Awlaki instructed defendant that the only requirements were that the attack be on a U.S. airliner, and that the attack take place over U.S. soil. Beyond that, Awlaki gave defendant discretion to choose the flight and date. Awlaki instructed defendant not to fly directly from Yemen to Europe, as that could attract suspicion. As a result, defendant took a circuitous route, traveling from Yemen to Ethiopia to Ghana to Nigeria to Amsterdam to Detroit. Prior to defendant’s departure from Yemen, Awlaki’s last instructions to him were to wait until the airplane was over the United States and then to take the plane down.”

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