As the investigation into NorthWest 253 continues, evidence is growing that suggests Al Qa'ida provided more than just 'inspiration' for Umar Abdulmutallab's failed Christmas Day attack. In addition, although Al Qa'ida claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, this claim does not represent the entirety of evidence indicating Al Qa'ida complicity.
Firstly, as I noted last week, in attempting to use his bomb only when Flight 253 was preparing to land in Detroit, Abdulmutallab showed significant strategic intellect. As the Lockerbie bombing showed, when an explosive device is detonated in a plane that is flying over a populated area, the already terrible human impact of an attack is greatly and terribly worsened. Abdulmutallab's seeming awareness of this fact, combined with his ability to smuggle the weapon through a heavily guarded airport and then patiently wait for eight to nine hours to detonate the bomb, strongly suggests that significant planning went into his effort. This measure of planning and preparation is far more typical to Al Qa'ida operations than to 'inspired' actions.
The evidence for a linkage hypothesis is strengthened further, by the new and apparently credible reports that Abdulmutallab hid at least part of his explosive device in his underwear. As any regular traveler on international routes well knows, security guards are extremely careful about pursuing their 'pat down' into the more intimate regions of the human body. However, international terrorist groups are well versed in taking advantage of openings in security procedures. Al Qa'ida especially, has shown considerable capability in this regard. This ability was not simply shown in the actions of the 'Shoe Bomber', Richard Reid, in December 2001 (an attack strikingly similar to Abdulmutallab's both in its operational character and in its late December action). In a 2002 plot against the US West Coast, Al Qa'ida planned to use South East Asian operatives instead of operatives of Middle Eastern descent, believing an Asian man would attract much less attention than a Middle Eastern counterpart. In a similar way, terrorists convicted in the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot considered bring their children along with them, in order to eliminate suspicion by airport security personnel. More recently, in September, an Al Qa'ida operative nearly assassinated a Saudi Prince, when the operative detonated an explosive device that he had hidden in his rectum. Though fortunately all these attacks failed, in their conception, they do represent a sustained trend of subversive ingenuity in Al Qa'ida operations. The clear similarities between previous Al Qa'ida operations and Abdulmatallab's most recent action, are hard to ignore.
Other evidence that supports the idea of links between Abdulmutallab and Al Qa'ida can be found in reports of the Nigerian's recent travels. These travels apparently according to his family, included Yemen, a country that faces a significant and growing Al Qa'ida operational presence. This assertion is matched by Abdulmutallab, who claims he received the explosive device and instructions for its use during a trip to Yemen.
In conclusion it appears that at the very least, Al Qa'ida's regional sub-group, Al Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula provided operational support for Abdulmutallab's attempted attack. Al Qa'ida's proved heavy interest in attacking passenger planes, an interest that dates back to 1995 and has endured ever since, provides a credible motive for their involvement. However, the basic truth, that Umar Abdulmutallab was able to get a bomb past security at a major European airport and onto a plane bound for the United States, is one that Al Qa'ida will without question, take notice of. This major terrorist group will believe that their pool of operatives has now been matched with a credible method of attack. A method of attack that is in a practical sense, exceptionally hard to counter-act. Unless western airport security improves drastically, the simple truth is that Al Qa'ida will eventually bring down a commercial airliner. In this regard, while on a basic level Abdulmutallab failed, in another and very real way, he and his allies succeeded.