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Newly released documents detail 2009 Al-Qaida terrorist plot

Recently released documents, obtained by the New York Times after a prolonged battle under the Freedom of Information Act, have revealed a number of details surrounding a failed attempt to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit on Christmas 2009.

The documents detail how the perpetrator, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, came to meet and receive orders from Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who became a leader within al-Qaida.

According to Abdulmutallab’s account to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was Awlaki who decided that “the attack should occur on board a U.S. airliner.” Abdulmutallab added that he “was resolved to killing innocent people and considered them to be ‘collateral damage.’ ”

The full account of Awlaki’s role in the attempted attack has never been previously disclosed. The assertion that he was involved was, however, the government’s central justification behind President Barack Obama’s order to kill the cleric with a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. The allegations against Awlaki were never tested in the courts.

According to the Times, “Awlaki became the first American citizen deliberately killed on the order of a president, without criminal charges or trial, since the Civil War.” Some questioned the killing’s constitutional legality, but President Obama insisted the order was within the confines of the law.

The details shared by Abdulmutallab appear to have been earned thanks to the FBI’s careful interrogation techniques. Investigators flew some of his relatives to the U.S. to lift his spirits and encourage him to disclose information. In a series of interviews, Abdulmutallab “described every person he said he could recall from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch in Yemen; discussed candidly his evolving views about carrying out a terrorist act; and tried to reconstruct the layout of a training camp, Awlaki’s house and many other Qaida buildings. His descriptions were so precise that it is likely they have helped shape targeting decisions in the American drone campaign in Yemen.”

Abdulmutallab revealed how Awlaki taught him about the “religious obligation of jihadism” before walking him through the plot to detonate a bomb aboard a plane.

Awlaki advised the then-23-year-old Nigerian to throw authorities off by traveling from Yemen to an African country before booking the flight he intended to target. Abdulmutallab was allowed to pick the final destination and timing, with the eventual target of Detroit and date of Dec. 25 supposedly being dictated by ticket prices and schedules.  Awlaki gave Abdulmutallab one final reminder: “Wait until you are in the U.S., then bring the plane down.”

Abdulmutallab monitored the flight progress of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 through the seat-back screen after the plane departed from Amsterdam. As the plane neared the U.S. border, he went to the restroom to prepare the bomb. He considered detonating the explosives in there, but ultimately decided to return to his seat to ensure the plane was over the U.S. After returning to his seat and checking the map, he pushed a plunger under his clothing to mix the chemicals and detonate the explosive.

However, “perhaps because of excess moisture,” the explosive did not detonate, but did seriously burn Abdulmutallab. As the fire caused a commotion, other passengers jumped on Abdulmutallab and restrained him.

Abdulmutallab spoke before being removed from the plane, admitting that he had tried to detonate a bomb and that he was a member of al-Qaida. He later stopped talking, but resumed within a few weeks and appears to have become completely cooperative. He unexpectedly decided to plead guilty at his 2011 trial, and he was sentenced to life in prison in 2012.



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