The British intelligence agency MI5 “knew” about the extremist links of the Nigerian youth who unsuccessfully attempted to blow up an American airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, but let him slip through the net, it was reported on Sunday. In a separate development, Britain closed its embassy in Yemen following a reported threat from a local al-Qaeda-linked group.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reportedly came to the notice of MI5 when he studied at University College, London, from 2005 to 2008, and, as president of the Islamic Society, organised a series of events featuring allegedly radical preachers.
Media reports quoted counter-terror officials as saying that Abdulmutallab had been in touch with a “network” of global extremists known to MI5. He was “reaching out” to extremists whom MI5 had under surveillance, The Sunday Times claimed, adding that “none of the information,” however, was passed to American authorities, raising questions on whether there was an intelligence failure.
“British officials have now passed a file to their U.S. counterparts on Abdulmutallab’s activities while he was a student [in Britain]…It shows his repeated contacts with MI5 targets who were subject to phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance,” the newspaper said, echoing a similar report in The Observer.
Intelligence officials defended their decision not to pursue Abdulmutallab as a potential terror suspect, arguing that there was no evidence that he was involved in “plotting or supporting terror.”