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Yemen: Abdulmutallab met with al Qaeda

As the military hunts al Qaeda in the countryside, the Yemeni government said Thursday it is now certain that Umar Abdulmutallab met with al Qaeda operatives in eastern Yemen - and possibly even had contact with a radical U.S.-born cleric, also linked to the alleged Fort Hood gunman, reports CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy.

"There is no doubt that he was in contact with al Qaeda in Shabwa province," said Rashad al Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister said in Arabic. "Maybe with Anwar al-Awlaki."

But there are still big gaps in the Nigerian student's story - as CBS News found when visiting his old neighborhood in the Yemeni capital. Mohammed al Faqih was Abdulmutallab's neighbor. He said he used to disappear from his Arabic language school for five days or a week at a time.

"I asked his friends "Where did he go?'" al Faqih said in Arabic. "And they told me they didn't know."

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And Thursday, the Yemeni government said that Abdulmutallab completely disappeared from September 14 to December 7 - a time some speculate he might have spent in an al Qaeda training camp in the desert.

Figuring out precisely whom Abdulmutallab met in Yemen is important not just for his case, but crucially because it gives the United States insight into how al Qaeda here recruits and trains would-be suicide bombers.

Yemenis are nervous that if their government doesn't go after al Qaeda now, the United States will.

"It is better that we handle our own problems ourselves on our own terms," said Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a political analyst.

The United States is already providing the Yemeni military with training and equipment, and has made it clear at the very highest levels that it wants results against al Qaeda right away.

The Yemeni military said they do have some intelligence about where Al-Awlaki is located, but it's very hard to know how close they are to capturing him. It's important to remember that in Yemen, outside the capital, the government has very little control. It's really under the control of the tribes and so it's difficult to know how close they are to actually getting to this radical cleric.

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