Abdulmutallab's Missing Months in Yemen

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab over Yemen flag with shadow of a figure AP/CBS

Updated at 7:57 a.m. Eastern.

Officials in Yemen were investigating Tuesday whether the Nigerian suspected in the attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner spent time with al Qaeda militants in the country in the months leading up to the botched bombing.

Administrators, teachers and fellow students at the San'a Institute for the Arabic Language, where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had enrolled to study Arabic, told The Associated Press that he attended school for only the month of Ramadan, which began in late August. That has raised questions about what he did during the rest of his stay, which continued into December.

Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack

Abdulmutallab, 23, told U.S. officials after his arrest that he'd received training and instructions from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, a law enforcement official has said.

According to a report by "Leadership Nigeria," Abdulmutallab sent his parents a text message from Yemen sometime after October 2009 telling them he was no longer their son, that he would not be in contact any more and that he would never return home.

It was that text which prompted the young man's father to speak to Nigerian intelligence officials and, in turn, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, according to the report.

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports exclusively that the CIA was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed "The Nigerian" as early as August of 2009. The individual was suspected of meeting with "terrorist elements" in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News "The Nigerian" turned out to be Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when his father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009.

People at the school in Yemen who knew Abdulmutallab said he was not openly extremist, though he expressed anger over Israel's actions against Palestinians in Gaza. Abdulmutallab's roomate at the school in the Yemeni capital told the AP on Wednesday that he would sometimes disappear without explanation.

One of the Nigerian's teachers in Yemen, Ahmed Mohammed, said Abdulmutallab
spent the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan sequestered in a mosque
and attended barely four hours of the 20-hour course he enrolled in. Ramadan ended in late September.

The possibility that he was involved with militants in Yemen has heightened concerns about the largely lawless country that has become an al Qaeda stronghold. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group formed in January when operatives from Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged, claimed responsibility Monday for the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound airliner.

CNN reports that the U.S. and Yemen are jointly reviewing targets in the country for possible retaliation strikes against al Qaeda militants. The report cites two officials who say military and intelligence officials are seeking out potential targets, to be ready if and when President Obama should order such retaliatory strikes.

More coverage from CBSNews.com:

U.S. Intel Lapses Helped Abdulmutallab
Obama: "Systemic Failure" Allowed Attack
TSA Still Vexed by Explosives Screening
Did Abdulmutallab Talk to Radical Cleric?
Growing Al Qaeda Threat from Yemen
Abdulmutallab Lonely, Web Postings Suggest
Confusion Reigns Over Flight Security
Christmas Incident Renews Scanner Debate
Abdulmutallab's "Jihad Fantasies" Revealed
Behind the Abdulmutallab Security Breach
What Lies Ahead for Air Travel
Al Qaeda: We Planned Flight 253 Bombing
Obama: Plane Bomb Plot a "Serious Reminder"
Expert: New Security Steps a Smokescreen

Yemeni Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy suggested the U.S. was partly to blame for Yemen's failure to identify Abdulmutallab as a terror suspect. He told a news conference Washington never shared its suspicions about the man, who was flagged on a watchlist as a possible terrorist.

"We didn't get any notice from the Americans to put this man on a list," al-Lozy said. "America should have told Yemen about this man."

Al-Lozy said Abdulmutallab received a Yemeni visa to study Arabic after authorities were reassured that he had "several visas from a number of countries that we are cooperating with in the fight against terror." He noted that Abdulmutallab had a valid visa to the United States, which he had visited in the past.

"Our investigations are looking into who were the people or parties that were in touch with Umar here," al-Lozy told the AP.

He noted Abdulmutallab frequented a mosque in the old city, but did not say whether there was an al Qaeda link to that mosque.

One individual who the young Nigerian may have been in contact with while in Yemen is the radical imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who has been linked to the 9/11 hijackers and Fort Hood Shooting suspect Nidal Malik Hasan.

Sources tell the CBS News investigative unit they believe Abdulmutallab communicated with Awlaki while he was a student in London.

Abdulmutallab apparently attended a talk by given by Awlaki at a London mosque, though Awlaki, barred from entering Britain since 2006, addressed the meeting by video teleconference. Awlaki is believed to have been in Yemen since at least 2006, and is also believed to be associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The minister said Yemen was tightening controls on those seeking student visas to come to Yemen in the wake of Abdulmutallab's case.

The new revelations came a day after the AQAP claimed responsibility for the failed attack, saying it was meant "to avenge the American attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen."

Yemeni forces, with U.S. intelligence help, launched two major strikes against al Qaeda this month, reportedly killing at least 64 militants. But the group's reference to the strikes was apparently propaganda because Abdulmutallab bought his ticket to the U.S. on Dec. 16, a day before the first of the two strikes. The second was on Dec. 24, a day before the airliner bombing attempt.

(CBS)
The strikes appear to be the result of heightened U.S.-Yemeni cooperation to wipe out al Qaeda in Yemen. The group, led by Naser Abdel Karim al-Wahishi (at left), includes several Saudis who have been released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and have attended the kingdom's rehabilitation program designed to reform extremists.

The attempted bombing has raised questions in Congress about President Obama's plans to shut down the Guantanamo facility, nearly half the remaining detainees are from Yemen.

Yemen's Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Kerbi told BBC radio on Tuesday there could be up to 300 al Qaeda militants in his country, some of whom may be planning attacks on Western targets like the one in Detroit.

The Yemeni government's previous attempts against the militants amounted to scattered raids mixed with tolerance of some fighters in return for vague promises they would avoid terror activity domestically.

The Pentagon recently said it has poured nearly $70 million in military aid to Yemen this year - compared to none in 2008.

The U.S. has increasingly provided intelligence, surveillance and training to Yemeni forces during the past year, and has provided some firepower, according to a senior U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive security issues. Some of that assistance may be through the expanded use of unmanned drones, and the U.S. is providing funding to Yemen for helicopters and other equipment.

In its claim, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said it provided Abdulmutallab with a sophisticated explosive that did not go off because of technical malfunction.

Students and administrators at the San'a institute said Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel's actions in Gaza. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Yemeni security authorities have ordered them not to talk to the media.

Administrators at the school said Monday that Yemeni security officials have been questioning the director, Muhammad al-Anisi, for two days.

Ahmed Moajjib, the only teacher who agreed to be named, said Abdulmutallab was a "very quiet student, who was extremely smart, liked to help others and was not frivolous."

"He did not appear suicidal, depressed or frustrated," he added.

Internet postings purportedly written by Abdulmutallab suggest a fervently religious and lonely young man who fantasized about becoming a Muslim holy warrior. Throughout more than 300 posts, a user named "Farouk1986" reflects on a growing alienation from his family, his shame over sexual urges and his hopes that a "great jihad" will take place across the world.

While officials haven't verified that the postings were written by Abdulmutallab, details from the posts match his personal history.

On Tuesday, Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili told reporters that Abdulmutallab told his parents a few months ago he wanted to study Sharia law, a strict Islamic code, something his father said he couldn't do. Abdulmutallab responded by sending a text message from an unknown cell phone number saying he never would talk to his family again, Akunyili said.

Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen in August, shortly after leaving Dubai, where he took classes at University of Wollongong for about seven months.
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