US: First terror probe shock

2010-01-07 22:24

Washington - The White House warned Americans to brace for a "certain shock" on Thursday when it releases a first probe into intelligence failures exposed by the Christmas attack on a US airliner carrying 290 people.

New details about the thwarted bombing of a Northwest jet will follow revelations from Yemen that a young Nigerian man charged with carrying out the plot met a radical Muslim cleric Washington accuses of instigating terrorism.

President Barack Obama, who has complained about a disastrous intelligence "screw-up", will make a fresh statement on Thursday, as his administration fights claims it botched the initial response to the attempted suicide bombing.

His national security advisor James Jones prepared public opinion for the report by warning Americans would feel a "certain shock" when they read about systemic failures in intelligence operations designed to keep them safe.

Obama "is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behaviour that were available, were not acted on," Jones told USA Today.

Noting the failed bid to destroy the jet, and the shooting rampage which killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in November by a Muslim army psychiatrist, Jones said clues about extremist attacks had now been missed twice.

"That's two strikes," Jones said, adding that the president "certainly doesn't want that third strike, and neither does anybody else."

Obama furious

A furious Obama has ordered swift government reviews into the attack on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, centring on existing terrorist watch lists and on airline security and screening.

He was originally scheduled to speak at about 18:00 GMT but the appearance was delayed by two hours after it emerged he would hold a private Oval Office meeting with former president Bill Clinton.

On Tuesday, Obama said the review showed US intelligence agencies missed a series of red flags related to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who is accused of trying to destroy the jet with explosives sewn into his underwear.

New details meanwhile began to emerge of the planning of the airliner plot, blamed by the United States on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen.

The Arab country's Deputy Prime Minister for Defence and Security Affairs, Rashad al-Aleemi, said Abdulmutallab had met Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US-Yemeni cleric also linked to the Fort Hood massacre.

The United States has accused Awlaqi of terrorist links and said that Nidal Hasan, the accused in the November military base shootings in Texas that killed 13 people, had also been in contact with the cleric.

Aleemi said that Abdulmutallab may also have been recruited by al-Qaeda while at university in London.

"When he went to Britain, it seems that he was recruited by [Islamist] militant groups," Aleemi said, adding that Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen "after he had been recruited by al-Qaeda".


Sharpening the US conundrum in a widening front on the US anti-terror fight, Aleemi also warned that American military intervention in Yemen could backfire and strengthen jihadists.

Nigeria, smarting from US criticisms of its aviation security procedures, offered to provide Washington's investigators images of Adbulmutallab going through security checks at Lagos airport on December 24 before flying to Amsterdam.

Justice Minister Michael Aondoaaka told reporters that the images would prove that security staff had done their job.

"We have visual information... [that shows] our security agents did what they were supposed to do," the minister told journalists.

Nigeria has demanded it be removed from a US aviation watchlist of 14 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, introduced after a security review ordered by Obama.

"Nigeria is not a terrorist country. Nigeria will not, cannot be on the list of countries of interest because we have a track record as a peacekeeper," added the minister.

Abdulmutallab was indicted on six counts on Wednesday by a US grand jury for attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction aboard a US plane and could face life imprisonment.

In a highly unusual public rebuke of the US spy community on Tuesday, Obama said errors by intelligence agencies before the attack were "not acceptable".

In private, he was even more vociferous, telling spy chiefs in a meeting in the White House Situation Room: "this was a screw-up that could have been disastrous", an official said, on condition of anonymity.