Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the extremist group based in Yemen, appeared to claim responsibility for the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound jet, ratcheting up worry about the organization's expanding reach and potency.
The group said it provided the Nigerian suspect in the attempted bombing, identified by U.S. officials as Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, with "a technically advanced device," according to a statement issued by the group Monday and posted on several Web sites routinely used by Islamic militants.
The statement said the device failed to detonate because of an unspecified technical fault. Like other statements from the group in the past, it couldn't definitively be verified.
The group, also known by its initials AQAP, said the suspect had the blessing of the organization in "his response" to U.S. attacks in Yemen, apparently referring to recent U.S.-backed military strikes conducted by the Yemeni government against suspected al Qaeda operatives. The group referred to Mr. Abdulmuttalab as "Umar Farouk al-Nigiri," denoting his Nigerian origin.
In the statement, the group warned of fresh attacks in the Arabian peninsula, in particular, calling for attacks against foreign embassies: "We call on all Muslims ... to throw out all unbelievers from the Arabian peninsula by killing the crusaders who work in embassies or elsewhere," the statement read.
The al Qaeda statement said Mr. Abdulmutallab "managed to penetrate all devices and modern advanced technology and security checkpoints in international airports ... defying the large myth of American and international intelligence, and exposing how fragile they are, bringing their nose to the ground."
The claim of responsibility ratchets up pressure on both U.S. and Yemeni officials to bring the country's growing al Qaeda network under control. Yemeni and U.S. officials have acknowledged cooperation between the two countries in the fight against Islamist extremists.
In a recent interview, Ali Al-Anisi, a senior security aide to Yemen's president and the director of the president's office, said the government was determined to rid Yemen of al Qaeda and was cooperating with U.S. officials in that fight. "There is coordination and collaboration in the fight against terror," he said.
Over the summer, Arab and Western intelligence officials grew alarmed by reports that al Qaeda members were retreating from the battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan to havens in Yemen.
In August, a Saudi al Qaeda member who had taken refuge in Yemen mounted a cross-border assassination attempt against Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef al Saud, the kingdom's point man on the war on terror.
U.S.-born cleric, Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki, who is now based in Yemen, said in a recent interview with Arabic news channel Al Jazeera that he provided the ideological support for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Foot Hood, Texas, shooter.
Earlier this month, Yemeni security forces, supported by U.S. intelligence, launched two rare offensives against al Qaeda cells, based in three locations around the country. Yemeni officials say at least 35 militants have been killed and at least two dozen more have been arrested during the attacks on Dec. 17 and Dec. 24.
Those figures couldn't be independently confirmed. It is unclear whether any of the dead or jailed included high-ranking members of the al Qaeda leadership there.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula vowed revenge for the deaths caused in the Dec. 17 attack. Despite that claim, it is unlikely that the foiled Christmas Day airline bombing was linked directly to this threat of revenge. Nigerian aviation officials have said Mr. Abdulmuttalab's ticket was bought Dec. 16.
In recent days, both al Qaeda supporters and government opposition members have staged protests against what they claim are scores of civilian casualties in the government's two operations against al Qaeda. Local media have reported up to 60 people, mainly women and children, killed in the attacks.
A Yemen government official, speaking to parliament last week, said the civilian loss of life was regrettable.
Local and Western analysts who specialize in Yemen says that the al Qaeda members have limited support throughout the fractured, unstable country, but the government also engenders little confidence. The government is also battling secessionists in the south and an insurgency in the north. Analysts warn that al Qaeda could capitalize on the growing anger over the civilian deaths to solidify the group's hold in the country.
Source: Wall Street Journal