Airliner bombing suspect is providing FBI with intelligence, source says
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 6:13 PM
Christmas Day bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been providing FBI interrogators with useful intelligence about his training and contacts since last week, a law enforcement source said Tuesday.
Separately, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was asked at a Senate hearing Tuesday afternoon whether Abdulmutallab was providing information to investigators. Mueller said "yes," without elaborating.
Word that the Nigerian student accused of trying to detonate a powerful explosive on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 is cooperating with criminal investigators comes amid a fierce debate in Congress over the Obama administration's approach to national security.
Abdulmutallab has recently told authorities more about where he trained overseas and others he met there, leads that the FBI has shared with other members of the U.S. intelligence community, the law enforcement source said.
The law enforcement source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. No plea deal between Justice Department lawyers and federal public defender Miriam Siefer is imminent, the source said, but both sides began negotiating last week, as reported by The Washington Post.
Abdulmutallab, who told the FBI during a 50-minute interrogation at a Michigan hospital that he had been trained by an al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, faces a virtual life sentence on six criminal charges including using a plane as a weapon of mass destruction. He later stopped cooperating and asked for a lawyer.
In exchange for his renewed cooperation, authorities could recommend that a federal judge reduce any prison sentence Abdulmutallab might face, a common occurrence in the criminal justice system.
Siefer did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but she is said to be helping advance the negotiations, along with representatives for Abdulmutallab's family, which is prominent in Nigeria, the law enforcement source said.
The approach appears to closely follow the FBI and Justice Department's handling of David Coleman Headley, a Chicago resident accused of serving as an advance man for the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Headley has not pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but he has been sharing information with the FBI for months about his alleged contacts with terrorist-linked groups overseas, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys have said.
House and Senate Republicans seized on the near-miss airline bombing to criticize the Justice Department's decision to prosecute Abdulmutallab in a civilian court rather than a military commission, and Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, has said Abdulmutallab should have been interrogated by special terrorism investigators instead of FBI agents. One Senate leader, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for the resignation of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
But Justice Department officials argue that the criminal courts have handled more than 100 terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes on American soil.
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.