U.S. President Barack Obama has, for the first time, publicly blamed an affiliate of the al-Qaida terror network for an unsuccessful plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner. Officials are investigating how American intelligence agencies failed to prevent the botched attack.
In his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, President Obama says an al-Qaida-linked group in Yemen gave the suspect the training, equipment and directions to bomb the plane. "It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaida, and that this group-al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America," he said.
In his most direct public language yet, the president describes the sequence of events leading up to 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly trying to destroy the Northwest Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25.
The group admitted responsibility in an Internet statement last week.
Mr. Obama says the al-Qaida affiliate has attacked U.S. targets before, including killing an American at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in 2008. As a result, he says his administration is working more closely with the government in Yemen. "So, as president, I have made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government, training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaida terrorists," he said.
The U.S. government gave Yemen $67 million in training and support to fight terrorists in 2009. Mr. Obama says the efforts have been paying off, and will continue to do so. "Training camps have been struck, leaders eliminated, plots disrupted. And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know-you too will be held to account," he said.
Even so, opposition Republicans have been criticizing the president for not getting tough enough on militants and terrorists. Mr. Obama is defending his administration's efforts to end the war in Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan. "Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations," he said.
The president has been on vacation in his home state of Hawaii for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, but he has received preliminary results of reviews he ordered into terrorist screening procedures.
After he returns to the White House, Mr. Obama will meet with his top intelligence and homeland security advisers on Tuesday. Administration officials have said security agencies will be held accountable after the Christmas Day incident.
Also, the U.S. Congress will hold hearings into miscommunication among anti-terror agencies and possible changes in procedures.