Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obama seeks to reassure U.S. after bombing attempt

Los Angeles International Airport Officer Jerome Evans works with a bomb-sniffing dog during increased security checks on Monday. Authorities warned holiday travelers to expect extra delays as they return home this week and beyond.

Associated Press

Los Angeles International Airport Officer Jerome Evans works with a bomb-sniffing dog during increased security checks on Monday. Authorities warned holiday travelers to expect extra delays as they return home this week and beyond.

HONOLULU — President Barack Obama emerged from Hawaiian seclusion on Monday to reassure the American public and quell gathering criticism as a branch of al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the thwarted attack on Christmas Day on an American passenger jet.

Obama vowed to track down "all who were involved" in helping a Nigerian man try to set off explosives aboard a Northwest Airlines flight as the plane approached Detroit, acknowledging the conclusion that the act was not that of a lone wolf but of a trained al-Qaida operative. With more signs pointing to Yemen as the origin of the attack, the White House was weighing how to respond.

The president broke his silence as debate about the episode turned increasingly political. An assertion over the weekend by Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, that "the system worked" drew strong criticism and forced her to recalibrate it on Monday.

Napolitano said that her remark had been taken out of context and that the attempted attack in fact represented a failure of the security system. "Our system did not work in this instance," she said. "No one is happy or satisfied with that."

On the international front, a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen and was the target of a recent airstrike facilitated by the United States, asserted that it had sponsored the attempted attack in retaliation.

U.S. government officials said they considered the statement, which was posted on a jihadist Web site, credible. The Yemeni government said the suspect in the failed bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had spent four months in the country before leaving earlier in December.

The statement by al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, accompanied by a photograph of Abdulmutallab, called him a hero who had "penetrated all modern and sophisticated technology and devices and security barriers in airports of the world" and "reached his target."

The statement said "mujahedeen brothers in the manufacturing department" had supplied the explosives and while a "technical error" led to an "incomplete detonation," the group vowed to "continue on the same path."

ABC News, citing unnamed American officials and Department of Defense documents, reported that two of the four leaders allegedly behind the plot were released by the United States from the Guantanamo prison. It said Guantanamo prisoner No. 333, Muhamad Attik al-Harbi, and prisoner No. 372, Said Ali Shari, were sent to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 9, 2007. Al-Harbi has since changed his name to Muhamad al-Awfi.

The claim of responsibility by the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida could force a shift in the administration's approach to counterterrorism in that nation. Until now, U.S. authorities considered it important to give Yemen credit for recent strikes against al-Qaida training camps and leaders, playing down the U.S. role in providing intelligence and equipment.

But a direct attempt to launch an attack on U.S. soil raises the question of whether the United States would have to take broader and more clearly visible retaliatory military action.

Obama, making his first public comments since the episode, said he had ordered his national security team "to keep up the pressure" on terrorists and vowed to "use every element of our national power to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks on the U.S. homeland."

Although he had been out of sight for three days, he assured Americans he was on top of the situation.

"We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," Obama said. "This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland."

Rep. Peter King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized Obama's silence Monday before the president's statement. "We're now, what, 72 hours into this and the president's not spoken, the vice president's not spoken, the attorney general's not spoken and Janet Napolitano has now told two different stories in two days," he said on Fox News. "First, she said everything worked; now she said it didn't."

Obama seeks to reassure U.S. after bombing attempt 12/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6:59am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.