The man accused of attempting to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day was recruited by al-Qaida in London, a senior minister in Yemen’s government claimed today.
The claim contradicts assurances given by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Alan Johnson that they believe Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab became involved in radical Islamist extremism only after leaving the UK.
Nigerian-born Abdulmutallab’s family have also suggested that he became radicalised during a visit to the Yemen last year, where he was supposedly studying Arabic but is believed to have made contact with some of the estimated 300 al-Qaida militants based in the country.
The suspected bomber is reported to have told US investigators that he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
But Yemen’s deputy prime minister for security and defence, Rashad al-Alimi, today told a news conference in Yemen: “The information provided to us is that Umar Farouk joined al-Qaida in London.”
The British Home Office made no immediate response to Mr al-Alimi’s comments, but referred reporters to Mr Johnson’s statement in the House of Commons yesterday, in which the British Home Secretary restated the UK government’s position that Abdulmutallab was radicalised after leaving Britain.
Mr Johnson acknowledged “concern” over the possibility that Abdulmutallab may have been influenced by radical ideas while an engineering student between 2005 to 2008 at University College London, where he was president of the Islamic Society.
But he told MPs: “During this time he was known to the Security Service but not as somebody engaged in violent extremism. His family and friends have stated their belief that he turned to this during his time in Yemen.”
His comments followed a statement by Mr Brown on New Year’s Day, in which the British Prime Minister said: “We are increasingly clear that he linked up with al-Qaida in Yemen after leaving London.”
Abdulmutallab attempted to enter the UK again last April, but was refused a student visa. His name was then placed on the UK Border Agency’s “watchlist”.
He was yesterday indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction after allegedly trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underpants as a plane approached Detroit on Christmas Day.
He is due to face court in the US tomorrow.
Mr al-Alimi also said that, during his time in Yemen, Abdulmutallab met radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to a gunman who ran amok at the Fort Hood US army base in Texas in November, killing 13.
Yemeni security officials believe that al-Awlaki was killed last month during military operations against al-Qaida strongholds in remote areas of the country.