Airliner bomb plot suspect helps FBI hunt cleric
The Nigerian accused of the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing has turned against the radical cleric who claims to be his teacher and is helping the US hunt for him, a law enforcement source revealed last night.
Former London student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (23), who faces terrorism charges over the bomb attempt in Detroit, has been co-operating with the FBI for days and talking about US-born Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
A law enforcement official said the information could provide fresh clues for authorities trying to capture or kill al-Awlaki in the mountains of Yemen.
A senior US intelligence official said al-Awlaki (38) represented the biggest name on the list of people Abdulmutallab might have information about.
The official would not say what information Abdulmutallab provided, but al-Awlaki himself said in a recent interview that he and Abdulmutallab had kept in contact.
Abdulmutallab was said to have tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a Detroit-bound passenger jet.
Al-Awlaki has emerged as a prominent al-Qa'ida recruiter and has been tied to the September 11 hijackers, Abdulmutallab and the suspect in November's deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
Abdulmutallab's co-operation with US authorities is at the centre of a political dispute in Washington over whether he should be tried in a civilian or military court. Democrats say it proves the Obama administration was correct to handle the case as a criminal matter, but Republicans accuse the administration of leaking details for political purposes.
Abdulmutallab agreed to co-operate after FBI agents flew to Nigeria and returned with Abdulmutallab's family members. Abdulmutallab's father and uncle persuaded him to co-operate with the FBI, according to a US official briefed on the talks.
A month before the attack, Abdulmutallab's father warned the US embassy in Nigeria that his son might be dangerous, a warning that officials failed to connect to other evidence that intelligence officials had gathered. US President Barack Obama has said the US had enough information to prevent the attack.
Al-Awlaki, who once preached in mosques in California and Virginia and posted fiery English-language internet sermons urging Muslims to fight in jihad, said in an interview released yesterday that he taught the Christmas bomber and supported his efforts, but did not call for the attack.
Al-Awlaki's family and many members of his powerful Awalik tribe deny he is a member of al-Qa'ida and say he is a victim of Yemeni and US persecution.