Cleric Investigated for Ties to Plane Bombing Plot
A U.S.-born cleric, now based in Yemen, is being investigated by U.S. counterterrorism officials for possible links to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of trying to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day.
Anwar al-Awlaki, who has reportedly become a key figure in an al-Qaida branch in Yemen that has claimed responsibility for the attempted attack, is suspected of having contacts with Abdulmutallab, according to several media reports. From NPR:
Law enforcement officials won’t say definitively and on the record that the two men met, but they will say privately that the two were in contact.
NPR has learned that just before Abdulmutallab cut off all ties to his family in Nigeria, he apparently asked his father if he could go to Yemen to study Shariah (law). His father said no. Officials say Awlaki runs study sessions in Yemen that focus on Shariah. The question is whether Abdulmutallab decided to go to Yemen in August to see Awlaki.
Awlaki’s name surfaced in the media last month for his apparent communications with accused Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan prior to the attack there in November that killed 13 people. Just last week, it was [rumored](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2009/12/imam-with-ties-to-fort-hood-shooter-reported-dead.html) Awlaki may have been killed in a U.S.-backed airstrike in Yemen targeting al-Qaida operatives. It remains unclear whether he was killed or injured in the attack, but ABC News reported today that [Awlaki is alive](http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/awlaki-alive/story?id=9455144), citing contacts with a Yemeni journalist who claims to have spoken with him in the past few days. Just after the Sept. 11 attacks, the NewsHour’s Ray Suarez [interviewed](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/religion/july-dec09/alawlaki_11-11.html) Awlaki at his home outside Washington, D.C. Awlaki moved to Yemen the following year, and his sermons there have become increasingly radical. Ray recently [reflected](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/religion/july-dec09/alawlaki_11-11.html) on his 2001 interview with Awlaki: > While talking of his feelings of grievance, he chose his words carefully. Very carefully. One could walk away from the Friday sermon, or from the interview, struck by how in his rhetoric he could dance right up to the edge of condoning violence, taking the side of anti-American forces in the Muslim world, and then, just as carefully, reel it back in, pulling the punch, softening the context, covering the sharp-edged scalpel of his words in a reassuring sheath. You can [watch an excerpt of that 2001 interview with Awlaki](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/religion/july-dec09/alawlaki_11-11.html) and one of his October 2001 sermons [here](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/religion/july-dec09/alawlaki_11-11.html).