WASHINGTON — The Nigerian suspect in a failed Christmas Day airliner bombing turned against the cleric who claims to be his teacher and has helped the U.S. hunt for the radical preacher, a law enforcement official said Thursday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who faces terrorism charges in the Christmas bombing, has been cooperating with the FBI for days, providing information about his contacts in Yemen and the al-Qaida affiliate that operates there.
His cooperation against U.S.-born Yemeni radical Anwar al-Awlaki is significant because it could provide fresh clues for authorities trying to capture or kill him in the remote mountains of Yemen. Al-Awlaki has emerged has a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied to the 9/11 hijackers, Abdulmutallab and the suspect in November's deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
The law enforcement official would not say what information Abdulmutallab provided, but al-Awlaki himself said in a recent interview that he and Abdulmutallab had kept in contact. A senior U.S. intelligence official said al-Awlaki represented the biggest name on the list of people Abdulmutallab might have information against. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive ongoing investigation.
Abdulmutallab agreed to cooperate after FBI flew to Nigeria and returned to the U.S. with Abdulmutallab's family members. In a federal prison cell outside Detroit, Abdulmutallab's father and uncle persuaded him to cooperate with the FBI, according to a U.S. official briefed on the talks who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing case.
A month before the attack, Abdulmutallab's father warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son might be dangerous, a warning that officials failed to connect to others evidence trickling in to intelligence officials. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. had enough information to prevent the attack.
Al-Awlaki, who once preached in mosques in California and northern Virginia and posted fiery English-language Internet sermons urging Muslims to fight in jihad, said in an interview released Thursday that he taught the Christmas bomber and supported his efforts but did not call for the attack.
"Brother mujahed Umar Farouk — may God relieve him — is one of my students, yes," al-Awlaki said in the interview, which Al-Jazeera reported on its Web site Tuesday. "We had kept in contact, but I didn't issue a fatwa to Umar Farouk for this operation," al-Awlaki was quoted as saying.