By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 6, 2010; A07
Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi said he taught and corresponded with the suspect in the attempted Dec. 25 airliner bombing but did not order the attack, according to an interview published this week.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, "is one of my students; yes, we were in correspondence," Aulaqi said in the interview, published Tuesday in Arabic by al-Jazeera.net. "But I did not give [him] a fatwa in regards to this operation." In Islam, a fatwa is an order by a recognized religious authority.
The interview was the first to claim direct contact with Aulaqi since the attempted attack but did not indicate when or where it took place. An introduction to the question-and-answer format said it was rushed because of "security conditions and precautions."
U.S.-born Aulaqi is a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based affiliate of al-Qaeda that asserted responsibility for the airliner incident. He has been linked to Abdulmutallab as well as to U.S. Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, charged in the November shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex.
Aulaqi was thought to be meeting with regional al-Qaeda leaders at a compound in Yemen targeted by a U.S. missile strike on Dec. 24, although he was not said to be the focus of the attack. Yemeni and U.S. officials have denied early reports that he was killed in the strike.
"The American missiles and raids killed 17 women and 23 children in my tribe," Aulaqi said in the interview, which was translated and distributed Friday by Evan Kohlmann, a senior investigator with the NEFA Foundation. "So don't ask me whether al-Qaeda killed, or if it bombed an American civilian jet after all of that, as 300 Americans are nothing before the thousands of Muslims they killed," he continued.
American civilians are a legitimate target, he said, because they elected "the criminal Bush . . . and Obama, who's no different from Bush" in supporting Israel and conducting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United States, he said, had charged him with "encouragement" of Abdulmutallab and Hasan, both of whom corresponded with him on his Internet site "in an attempt to destroy the voices defending the rights" of the Muslim nation. Rather than the true Islam of jihad and Muslim law, he said, the United States wanted to "market" its version of "the American, peaceful and democratic Islam" that recognizes subservient governments and occupied countries.
Although Yemen was not occupied to the same extent as Iraq and Afghanistan, Aulaqi said, the sea around it is "occupied by surveillance jets." U.S. intelligence operatives and military trainers in Yemen, he said, also constitute an "occupying force" on the ground there.
Aulaqi called the Yemeni government "degenerate" for allowing the U.S. presence. He criticized mainline Yemeni clerics who have published papers distinguishing between justified militant attacks on civilians and foreigners in occupied Muslim countries and unjustified attacks in countries where there is no military occupation.
"American officers today -- whether in intelligence or in the army -- are present in Sanaa and other regions," he said in a reference to the Yemeni capital. "This is an American interference, so why don't the [religious authorities] put out fatwas . . . to kill those officers, as they entered to eavesdrop and kill, and to train the Yemeni soldiers to kill?"