Video: Officials probe suspect’s possible terror ties

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    >> john yang , thank you.

    >>> and tonight we're finding out more about the suspect's background, including details about his wealthy family and his father's concern about his son's extremist views. the suspect has roots in africa and ties to europe, where investigators are working to uncover all aspects of the plot and to see if he acted alone. for that part of the story, we're joined by nbc's tom aspell in london. good evening, tom.

    >> reporter: amy, investigators are mining their international connections for information about the bomber, who appears to have been a child of privilege with wealthy parents and an education at one of the world's leading universities. british police entering an affluent apartment building in central london today, looking for clues about the man who try to bring down northwest flight 253 near detroit. uma farouk abdulmutallab is said to have lived here as a student. a 15-minute walk away from the prestigious london university college , where he was registered as an engineering student from 2005 until 2008 . abdulmutallab reportedly occupied basement room, while his parents lived upstairs in a neighborhood where apartments routinely cost more than $2 million. his father, dr. mara abdulmutallab, is a prominent banker from north nigeria, where radicalism is gain ago foothold. a nigerian newspaper is reporting abdulmutallab's father told police his son had disappeared and gone to the middle east . nbc news has learned his father also warned u.s. embassy officials in nigeria that his son had extreme islamic views. as a devout muslim educated in the west, mew talib may have been a prize recruit for terror groups.

    >> it's the kind of people that al qaeda perceives can sneak past airline security , have a certain sense of savvy about western technology and are capable of carrying out a major act of terrorism.

    >> reporter: police in britain are anxious to find out if mutallab had connections with any known terrorists and while there's no solid evidence of any tie to the attack, u.s. officials are investigating whether al qaeda operating out of yemen directed the operation. meanwhile, major european airports have stepped up security, particularly on flights bound for the united states . tonight a la tanzia flight from frankfurt to detroit made an unscheduled stop in iceland to unload a bag belonging to a passenger who missed a flight, a precaution, but it was an indication of how jittery airlines are now because of what happened on northwest 253. amy?

    >> tom aspell, thank you.

    >>> and back in this country

By Senior investigative producer
NBC News
updated 12/26/2009 11:18:18 PM ET 2009-12-27T04:18:18

U.S. agencies are looking into whether al-Qaida extremists in Yemen directed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and provided him with the explosives used in the failed bombing of Northwest Flight 253, senior administration officials told NBC News on Saturday.

They are also examining a possible link to an attempted assassination of a Saudi government official last August that used the same explosive, PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate. In both incidents, the explosive device was in or attached to the suspect's underwear.

The New York Times quoted unidentified officials as saying Abdulmutallab had obtained the explosive materials from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with al-Qaida.

Abdulmutallab had visited Yemen in the past few months, say officials. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a Yemen-based offshoot of al-Qaida.

Abdulmutallab’s increasingly radical leanings and anti-western rhetoric caused his family to alert the U.S. Embassy in the Nigerian capital of Abuja of their concerns.

He was added to a terrorism watch list in November, say officials, but not to the no-fly list. The larger watch list — the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE — contains more than 500,000 names, while the no-fly list has some 4,000 names.

Military action
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has been increasingly active in the past year. It is headquartered in Hadramout, the vast desert region shared with Saudi Arabia, but operates in other parts of the peninsula as well. U.S. and Yemeni forces have stepped up military activities in the region in recent weeks.

A Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Saturday that the U.S. has yet to contact his government officially. “We have yet to receive official information on the incident. If and when the would-be bomber’s alleged link to Yemen is officially identified, authorities will take immediate action.”

Image: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is shown in an undated photograph released to Reuters on Saturday.
Of particular interest to U.S. officials, beyond Abdulmutallab’s travels to Yemen, is a thwarted attack on the head of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism effort and an October article on the use of small amounts of explosives, authored by the Yemen al-Qaida group’s leader.

In the former incident, a suicide bomber hid PETN in his underwear, detonating it when greeting Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, head of Saudi counterterrorism, last Aug. 28.

The man, who had claimed he was turning himself in, died in the attack. Bin Nayef, a U.S. ally, suffered burns to his hands. Cultural taboos prevented a search in that part of the terrorist's body. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

Officials told WNBC that the explosives in the Christmas Day attack also were attached to Abdulmutallab's underwear.

‘War is a Trick’
That was followed by an article published two months later in Sada al-Malahim, the group's online magazine. In the article, "War is a Trick," the group's leader, Abu Basir al-Wuhayshi, advised would-be al-Qaida members to use small amounts of explosives to kill "apostates" and Western nationals, including on passenger aircraft and in airports.

Video: Did terror suspect fall through cracks? According to a translation proved by NBC counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann, al-Wuhayshi wrote: "You do not need to sacrifice huge efforts, or large amounts of money, to make 10 grams of explosives, or more or less … make it [the material] in the shape of a grenade to throw, or [an explosive] to time, or ignite it from a distance, or a martyrdom belt … and bomb with it any tyrant, or intelligence forces den, or a prince, or a minister, or a crusader wherever you find them, and also in airports in the western crusade countries that participated in the war against Muslims; or on their planes, or in their residential complexes or their subways."

Al-Wuhayshi pointed to the attempted assassination of bin Nayef as an example of how to carry out such attacks.

U.S. and Yemeni forces have carried out two joint attacks on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula within the past week, killing more than 60 suspects and larger numbers of civilians. Among those targeted in the second attack, only three days ago, was al-Wuhayshi.

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