SANAA (AFP) – Yemen confirmed on Tuesday that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who has been charged with trying to blow up a US-bound airliner, was still in the country earlier this month, after the local Al-Qaeda branch claimed the attempted bombing.
“He stayed in Yemen between the beginning of August and the beginning of December, after having received a visa to study Arabic at an institute in Sanaa where he had previously studied,” a Yemeni foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Saba news agency.
The spokesman did not provide details on Abdulmutallab’s previous stay in Yemen, saying only that Yemen gave him a visa after security officials were “reassured that he had been granted visas by friendly countries, and still held a valid visa to the US, where he had visited before.”
Students at the Institute of Languages in Sanaa’s old city told AFP that Abdulmutallab studied at the school and lived in student housing. He was in Yemen between August and early December, they said.
“He was normal and mixed with women and dealt with all people normally,” an American student said, asking not to be identified.
Abdulmutallab, 23, is a Nigerian Muslim and the son of a wealthy banker. US security officials have told the media that he is suspected of receiving training from Al-Qaeda. But the US government has been cautious about linking the failed attack to Osama bin Laden’s network.
Abdulmutallab’s family has said he travelled to Yemen, where he cut ties with them.
The Yemeni spokesman said that security agencies are investigating “the parties with whom the accused Nigerian was in contact during his time in Yemen.”
He said the results will be “sent to US agencies investigating the attempted attack, within the framework of US-Yemeni cooperation on security and fighting terrorism.”
The spokesman condemned the attack, and said his country, “which has suffered much from terrorism,” remains “an active partner in the international community in the war against terrorism.”
“The Yemeni security services continue to track and carry out operations against the terrorists of Al-Qaeda,” he added.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is active in Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, said in an internet posting on Monday that it masterminded the attempted bombing. It said the attack was in response to “unjust American aggression” on the Arabian Peninsula.
The group said a “technical fault” caused the plot’s failure, US monitoring group SITE Intelligence said.
The statement was accompanied by a picture of Abdulmutallab, who was described as the “Nigerian brother,” and boasted he “was able to breach all the modern and sophisticated technologies and checkpoints at the airports around the world,” according to IntelCenter, another US monitoring group.
“His act has dealt a huge blow to the myth of American and global intelligence services and showed how fragile its structure is.”
The statement called on Muslims “to declare all-out war against the Crusaders in the Island of Mohammed (the Arabian Peninsula)… in the land and sea and air.”
It also called on soldiers “in the Crusader armies” and those working for “agent governments” to carry out attacks similar to the November 5 shooting at the US base at Fort Hood, Texas which killed 13 people and wounded 42.
Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25 using a device containing PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive.
The explosives were allegedly sewn into his underwear and officials charge that tragedy was averted only because the makeshift detonator failed to work properly before fellow passengers jumped on the suspect.