Yemen confirmed yesterday 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 the government 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 said Abdulmutallab studied at the school and lived in student housing. He was in Yemen between August and early this month, 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 saidthat 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 traveled 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 said.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is active in Yemen and 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,” said 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 said.