Friday, February 17, 2012

Underwear Bomber: 'Proud to Kill in the Name of God'

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with an underwear bomb, said he was was "proud to kill in the name of God" before he was sentenced to multiple life sentences today in a Detroit courtroom.
"Today is a day of victory and God is great," said Abdulmutallab, 25. He also said that al Qaeda would one day be victorious, and that acts like his will continue until "the righteous servants of Allah inherit the world."
"The defendant has never expressed doubt or remorse about his mission," said Judge Nancy Edmunds in imposing four life sentences plus 50 years. "To the contrary, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken had asked Judge Edmunds to impose the maximum sentence allowable for Abdulmutallab's "cold-blooded, calculated plan to kill everyone aboard the plane."
"We ask the court to impose the maximum sentence on each count," said Corken, "to ensure that he never again will have the chance to harm an American citizen."
Earlier, five passengers who had been on flight 253 each got a chance to speak. Shama Chopra of Montreal told Abdulmutallab, "You had no right to take my life," but then handed Abdulmutallab's lawyer a rosary to give to the 25-year-old Nigerian, who is a devout Muslim.
New York immigration lawyer Theophilus Maranga told Abdulmutallab, "My family prays for you." He also told the judge he is now afraid to fly. Maranga is suing Delta Airlines and KLM-Air France for injuries he says he sustained while subduing Abdulmutallab.
Northwest flight attendant Lamare Mason put out the flames ignited by Abdulmutallab's bomb. He told the judge that he wakes up in night sweats, and that Abdulmutallab had robbed him of "the pleasure of going to work." Kurt Haskell, a Michigan lawyer, praised Mason for damping the flames and also criticized what he characterized as lax security that allowed Abdulmutallab to get on the plane. Haskell, who has long promoted a conspiracy theory that asserts the U.S. government was complicit in the attack, repeated his assertion. "I am convinced that Umar was given an intentionally defective bomb by a U.S. agent to stage a false terrorist attack."
Then the federal government showed a 52-second videotape showing the effect of 200 grams of PTN exploding on a sheet of aluminum. The government estimates that Abdulmutallab's original bomb contained at least 200 grams of PETN.
The life sentence was mandatory after Abdulmutallab pled guilty last year to eight charges, including attempted murder, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.
Prosecutors asked for consecutive life terms, calling him "an unrepentant would-be mass murderer who views his crimes as divinely inspired and blessed."
He is expected to be sent to the federal "supermax" pentitentiary in Florence, Colorado. The prison, widely considered the most secure in the U.S., already houses other notorious inmates, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, and 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspirator Ramzi Yousef.
Abdulmutallab refused to see his parents, who traveled to the U.S. and tried to visit him at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.
Abdulmutallab: Underwear Bomb Was A 'Blessed Weapon"
Abdulmutallab went to trial last October, but stopped the proceedings on the second day by suddenly changing his plea to guilty on all counts.
He called the failed explosives he had hidden in his underwear a "blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims" and said he had attempted to bomb Northwest flight 253 "because of the tyranny of the United States." "The Koran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah," Abdulmutallab told the court. "I carried the device to avenge the killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters... Unfortunately, my actions make me guilty of a crime."
"The United States should be warned that if they continue to persist and promote the blasphemy of Mohammad and the prophets," said Abdulmutallab, "the United States should await a great calamity that will befall them through the hands of the mujahedeen soon."
"If you laugh with us now, we will laugh with you later on the day of judgment," he said. Abdulmutallab also said he had been "greatly inspired" by Anwar al-Awlaki and insisted that Awlaki, who had been killed in a U.S. drone strike just weeks earlier, was still alive.
Lead prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tuckel said he was "very surprised" by Abdulmutallab's decision to plead guilty, as was FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit field office Andy Arena.
"I didn't see this one coming," Arena said.
An attorney working with Abdulmutallab, Anthony Chambers, told reporters it was Abdulmutallab's decision to switch his plea even though Chambers disagreed.
"No lawyer worth his weight in salt would agree," Chambers said. "I thought the evidence was lacking... I don't think there was any damage to that plane."
On Christmas Day, 2009, Abdulmutallab flew from Ghana to Amsterdam and boarded Northwest flight 253, bound for Detroit.
As the plane prepared to land in Detroit, Abdulmutallab spent an extended period in the bathroom, and then returned to his seat, where he covered himself with a blanket. When he tried to detonate the bomb in his underwear, passengers heard a popping, and saw flames spreading from his crotch. A Dutch passenger leapt on top of Abdulmutallab and flight attendants stopped the fire with fire extinguishers.
Abdulmutallab was found to have white powder packed into his underwear, as well as a plastic syringe to administer a liquid that was supposed to activate the explosives.
Taken into custody, he was treated for burns to his hands, leg and genitalia.
After the incident, Abdulmutallab told Customs and Border Protection officer Marvin Steigerwald that he obtained the device in Yemen and that he hid it in his underwear. When he was questioned later by two FBI agents, Abdulmutallab said he went to Yemen to become involved in jihad and that he was influenced by a man named Abu Tarak to undertake a suicide operation, investigators said.
Intelligence officials said that while in Yemen, Abdulmutallab also met with Anwar al-Awlaki. In March 2010, Awlaki released a tape praising Abdulmutallab. He addressed the "American people and said that nine years after the 9/11 attacks, "you are still unsafe even in the holiest and most sacred of days to you, Christmas Day."
"Our brother Umar Farouk has succeeded in breaking through the security systems that have cost the U.S. government alone over $40 billion," said Awlaki.
U.S. officials say that Awlaki was in electronic communication with Abdulmutallab repeatedly prior to the bombing of Northwest flight 253.
After Abdulmutallab's arrest, his family in Nigeria released a statement saying they had been so concerned about his political extremism that they had reported him to Nigerian authorities and to "foreign security agencies" months before the bombing.
The statement said that Abdulmutallab's recent behavior was "completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then, from very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern."
A senior U.S. official told ABC News that Abdulmutallab's father told the U.S. embassy in Nigeria his son had become radicalized and could pose a threat to the U.S.
Abdulmutallab Trains with Al Qaeda
More than 100 chat room posts traced to his e-mail account by ABC News show the course of his radicalization. In high school Abdulmutallab described himself as "very ambitious and determined."
He was concerned he would not get into college at Caltech, Stanford or Berkeley because of his test scores.
"I tried the SAT. It was a disaster!!! I didn't practice well and I got 1200." Abdulmutallab attended college in London between 2005 and 2008.
He wrote of being lonely and sought friends on-line. "Can you be my friend?" he wrote. "I get lonely sometimes because I have never found a true Muslim friend."
Later, he wrote of joining protests against the war in Iraq, asking "when is lying allowed to deceive the enemy?" Still later he wrote of heading to Yemen.
"The Obama administration has been admitting lately, that Yemen is the new Afghanistan," said Clarke. "It is the new sanctuary. The new al Qaeda base, where people from around the world, who want to be trained are sent. No longer to Afghanistan, but to Yemen."
Videos released by al Qaeda in 2010 showed Abdulmutallab and others in his training class in Yemen firing weapons at a desert camp whose targets included the Jewish star, the British Union Jack and the letters "UN." The tape also included an apparent martyrdom statement in Arabic from the then 23-year old justifying his actions against "the Jews and the Christians and their agents." He says, "the enemy is in your lands with their armies, the Jews and the Christians and their agents." He reads several passages from the Koran and adds, "God said if you do not fight back, He will punish you and replace you."
U.S. officials believe Abdulmutallab left Yemen in mid-December of 2009 on his suicide mission.

Yemen Journalist on Hunger Strike in Protest at Continued Detention

Friday, 17 February 2012
IPI Reminds U.S., Yemen of Journalist Rights
By: Naomi Hunt, Press Freedom Adviser
VIENNA, Feb 17, 2012 – IPI is increasingly concerned about the health of Yemeni journalist Abdul Elah Haidar Shaia, who reportedly began a hunger strike on 12 February to protest against his alleged mistreatment, and continued imprisonment. His health is reportedly failing, and he has allegedly been subjected to terrible prison conditions and prevented from receiving visits from his colleagues and friends, according to a joint action issued by the Yemen Syndicate of Journalists this week and other journalists.
In a separate incident, BBC reporter Abdullah Ghorab was attacked on Wednesday by men with knives and batons believed to be supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the news network reported.  BBC World Service Editor Liliane Landor was quoted as saying: "We are deeply concerned that this was a deliberate attack and we condemn it in the strongest terms." She noted that Ghorab had been "detained and assaulted on two previous occasions and was verbally attacked by Yemen deputy information minister last September”. IPI condemns the assault.
Shaia, meanwhile, has been in detention since August 2010, when he was first accused of supporting the Al Qaeda terrorist network. As a journalist for the state-run Saba news agency who specialised in terrorism, Shaia was in touch with a wide range of militants, tribesmen and officials, and in 2009 managed to obtain an exclusive interview with Anwar al-Awlaqi for the Al Jazeera network, reports said. According to AFP, Shaia was also known for his close ties to al-Awlaqi, the accused Al-Qaeda operative and spokesman who was killed in an airstrike in Yemen last year. But Shaia was accused of doing more than interviewing Al-Qaeda members – he was charged with supporting their work.
In July 2010 Shaia was detained by security forces and questioned about his reporting on Al Qaeda in Yemen; in August, he was arrested for allegedly belonging to and supporting the terrorism network. He was convicted in January 2011 by a special terrorism court, which sentenced him to five years in prison for taking pictures of potential Al Qaeda targets and recruiting for the organisation. A month later, amid growing protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, an order was issued for his release.
But after an eleventh hour intervention by United States President Barack Obama, who raised “concerns” about the pardon, Shaia was left in prison, where he has remained ever since.
Shaia has defended himself against the accusations, saying that he was only doing his job as a journalist. His legal team also take issue with the form in which he was prosecuted, noting that the establishment of special courts is illegal under the Yemeni constitution.
 “We would like to remind the authorities in the United States and Yemen of the right of journalists to report on a broad array of views and positions, including those of militant and terrorist groups,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “If Abdul Elah Shaia has been detained because of his work for Al-Jazeera and other networks in reporting on Al-Qaeda and the airstrikes against them, he should be freed immediately.”
Critics have said that Shaia is in jail because he helped expose the loss of civilian life that resulted from U.S.-led airstrikes on the country in 2009, according to reports.  According to a report in the Yemen Times, Shaia was “the first journalist to cover the death of 42 civilians in Al-Ma’jalla in Abyan, south Yemen, after a drone strike on Dec 17, 2009 on the area. The strike had allegedly targeted an Al Qaeda military training camp.”
The extent of the United States’ role in bombing alleged terrorist targets in Yemen throughout 2009 and 2010 has only gradually come to light, and in June 2011, the New York Times reported that the U.S. was again intensifying its air campaign “after a nearly year-long pause in American airstrikes, which were halted amid concerns that poor intelligence had led to bungled missions and civilian deaths that were undercutting the goals of the secret campaign.”
American involvement in the strikes has come under attack by critics, including those who believe that the bloodshed has helped Islamist extremists win Yemeni hearts and minds. Jeremy Scahill, in a feature published this week by The Nation, quoted one Yemeni journalist as saying, “I firmly believe that the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for Al Qaeda, because those operations gave Al Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy,” and helped “recruit thousands.”
Yemeni journalists continue to see an American hand in Shaia’s detention, though they are hopeful that, as a result of international pressure and continued demonstrations within Yemen, the journalist will soon be freed.
In January, the Yemen Times quoted another journalist and political activist, Samya Al-Aghbari, as saying, “Shaye’ was arrested by US orders to the Yemeni government for his analysis on the American airstrikes against Abyan and Arhab.”
The United States has come under fire in the past for jailing journalists for their alleged ties to terrorists. Sudanese journalist Sami al-Hajj, who worked for the Al-Jazeera network, was held in Guantanamo Bay from 2001 to 2008, when he was released without charge. Documents from the prison that were subsequently made public by Wikileaks showed that he was being held in part so that he could be questioned about his work for Al Jazeera and his relation to contacts that were made as part of his work.

US official: Outgoing Yemen strongman won’t return to his country until after next week’s vote

February 17, 2012
By Associated Press,
WASHINGTON — A U.S. official says Yemen’s longtime strongman will wait for a vote next week on a new interim president before returning home.
Ali Abdullah Saleh  has been in the United States since last month to receive treatment for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt last year.
The Obama administration has pressed the 69-year-old Saleh not to return until after Tuesday’s rubber-stamping of Yemen’s vice president as the new leader.
Saleh is accused of rights abuses in a crackdown on protesters. Opponents fear he’ll continue to wield power behind the scenes.
But a U.S. official says Saleh will wait until Wednesday to return. The official isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter and demanded anonymity.
The administration hopes Yemen can become a democracy after Saleh’s 34-year autocracy.

Yemen troops capture 10 militants

February 17 2012
Sanaa - Yemeni government forces detained 10 al-Qaeda-linked fighters on Friday, a security source said, after an attack in a town which underscored the security challenges of next week's presidential elections.
On Wednesday, Islamist militants shot dead a military officer and an election official in the town of Baydah, about 130km southeast of the capital Sanaa.
The militants opened fire on a car carrying Khaled Waqaa, the leader of a brigade of the elite Republican Guard, killing him as well as the head of Baydah's election committee, Hussein al-Babli, his son and two soldiers. Ten people were wounded.
Yemenis vote on February 21 to pick a leader to replace President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now in the United States for medical treatment, amid concern that violence could reduce turnout.
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack but said it had targeted only the military commander in revenge for the government's failure to fulfil its half of a deal under which Islamists quit a town they had seized.
Militants agreed last month to pull out of Radda, about 170km south-east of Sanaa, in exchange for the formation of a council to govern it under Islamic law and the release of several jailed comrades.
The militants' spokesman said that instead of setting up such a council, Republican Guard forces had entered the town. He warned the assassination was just a preliminary response.
Saleh formally handed power to his deputy, Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in November as part of a Gulf-brokered plan to end months of anti-government protests that paralysed the impoverished state for most of 2011.
Weakened by the upheaval, Yemen's government has lost control of swathes of the country, giving al Qaeda's regional Yemen-based wing room to expand its foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea. - Reuters