Foiled plane attack puts Al-Qaeda threat in sharp focus



WASHINGTON, Michael Mathes - Regardless of whether or not the Nigerian who tried to blow up a US-bound jet on Christmas Day was instructed in Yemen by Al-Qaeda, the White House insists it is not slacking in its anti-terror battle.
In early December as he ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama warned of the "violent extremism practiced by Al-Qaeda," and stressed that "this is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat.



(AFP/Paul J. Richards)
(AFP/Paul J. Richards)
"Where Al-Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold -- whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships," Obama said.
His spokesman Robert Gibbs hit the talkshows Sunday to assure Americans after the latest botched attack that there was no let up against Al-Qaeda, and to counter vehement criticism Obama was a soft touch.
"The president certainly has taken steps in his time in office to reorient our priorities as it comes to fighting that war on terror," Gibbs told NBC.
"We're drawing down in Iraq and focusing... on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the place where the attacks of 9/11 originated and where people sit in caves and in houses today planning more attacks in this country, using all elements of American power in places not just like Pakistan, but throughout the world in places like Yemen and Somalia.
"And you've seen already leaders from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that have been targeted and eliminated."
Experts and US lawmakers warned that even if no conclusive Al-Qaeda thumbprint is found on Friday's attempt to bring down a plane as it landed in Detroit, the group's radicalized ideology has "metastasized" well beyond traditional safe havens.
US authorities have charged Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet, using explosives and chemicals he sneaked past security checkpoints in Lagos and then Amsterdam.
According to US media citing unnamed US officials, Abdulmutallab confessed once in custody that he had received specific training for the attack from an Al-Qaeda bombmaker in Yemen.
Al-Qaeda camps in Yemen have been in the crosshairs in recent months, and the White House Thursday reiterated support for authorities there after Yemeni aircraft killed 34 suspected Al-Qaeda members in the country.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stepped in Sunday to say there was "no indication" yet Abdulmutallab had taken his orders from Al-Qaeda or that the attack was part of a broader terror plot.
Experts and lawmakers paint a different story.
The airline attack "is increasingly appearing to be the work of an orchestrated operation by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)," according to IntelCenter, a US group that monitors extremist activity.
"This would be the first time AQAP has struck outside of its Saudi Arabian/Yemen area of operations and is great cause for concern," it said, pointing to how Al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq, Somalia and North Africa might now be seeking to attack the West.
"The terrorist threat environment to the US is more complicated and multi-faceted today than at any point since 9/11."
Asked on CNN if the plane attack bore the markings of Al-Qaeda, former CIA acting director John McLaughlin replied: "it certainly feels that way."
Abdulmutallab, McLaughlin said, had been in London, "where there is frequent evidence of recruitment by Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda-related people. He claims to have been in touch with Yemenis, and Yemen is a place where Al-Qaeda is on the move."
Abdulmutallab comes from a well-off family in northern Nigeria, but his relatives said he had broken contact with them weeks ago after announcing he was studying in Yemen.
"Whatever religious views he held while studying in the UK, Farouk did not get the crazy idea of bombing a plane until he went to the Middle East for further study," said Shehu Sani, a neighbor of the Abdulmutallab family and a Nigerian rights activist.
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Monday, December 28th 2009
Michael Mathes
           


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