In Guilty Plea, Abdulmutallab Named Awlaki as Inspiration, Not as Co-Conspirator

In Eric Holder’s letter on drone killing today, he used Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s UndieBomb attack as the most extensive evidence justifying the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki.

For example, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the individual who attempted to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 — went to Yemen in 2009, al-Aulaqi arranged an introduction via text message. Abdulmutallab told U.S. officials that he stayed at al-Aulaqi’s house for three days, and then spent two weeks at an AQAP training camp. Al-Aulaqi planned a suicide operation for Abdulmutallab, helped Abdulmutallab draft a statement for a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and directed him to take down a U.S. airline. Al-Aulaqi’s last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. [Emphasis original]

That version of what Abdulmutallab said about his attack draws on Abdulmutallab’s confession to the High Value Interrogation Group at Milan Correctional Facility, last presented in a narrative submitted at Abdulmutallab’s sentencing. I commented on some oddities in that narrative here and will likely return to it.

Contrast that with how Abdulmutallab pled guilty to conspiracy to commit terrorism in court in October 2011.

In the name of Allah, the most merciful, if I were to say I the father did not do it, but my son did it and he conspired with the holy spirit to do it, or if I said I did it but the American people are guilty of the sin, and Obama should pay for the crime, the Court wouldn’t accept that from me or anyone else.

In late 2009, in fulfillment of a religious obligation, I decided to participate in jihad against the United States. The Koran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them, some parts of the Koran say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.

As a result, I traveled to Yemen and eventually to the United States, and I agreed with at least one person to carry an explosive device onto an aircraft and attempt to kill those onboard and wreck the aircraft as an act of jihad against the United States for the U.S. killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

I was greatly inspired to participate in jihad by the lectures of the great and rightly guided mujahideen who is alive, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, may Allah preserve him and his family and give them victory, Amin, and Allah knows best. [my emphasis]

He pleads to a conspiracy (the first crime he was charged with), but he doesn’t name the person or people with whom he conspired.

Then, immediately after not naming his co-conspirators, he says he was inspired to conduct this act by Anwar al-Awlaki. But even there, he doesn’t attribute Awlaki’s influence to conversations he had with Awlaki in Yemen — even Awlaki acknowledged to having contact with Abdulmutallab, though he maintained he did not order the attack. Rather, Abdulmutallab points to speeches Awlaki published, speeches which, according to other court documents, he listened to as early as 2005.

Thus, at a moment when Abdulmutallab controlled his own speech, when there was no question of coercion (though his current lawyer now challenges his competence at the time), in a speech in which he boasted of Awlaki’s role in inspiring his terror attack, he did not name Awlaki as his co-conspirator.

You could argue, I suppose, that Abdulmutallab did so out of some belief the government or news had lied about Awlaki’s death almost two weeks before (as he makes clear, he refused to believe Awlaki was dead), in an attempt to get him to implicate Awlaki, and that his tribute to Awlaki’s influence but not co-conspiracy was an attempt to push back. The FBI appears to have badgered Abdulmutallab about the likelihood Awlaki would be killed after he got put on a kill list, so it is possible he worried that if he implicated Awlaki he might lead to his death (which had already happened).

Whatever the explanation, these two narratives present two of the three confessions Abdulmutallab gave (the other being the one he gave just after he had been captured, as presented by AUSA Jonathan Tukel at trial, in which Abdulmutallab did not name Awlaki at all). And as the Administration’s newfound transparency rolls out tomorrow, it’s worth keeping in mind that the confession that implicates Awlaki is just one of three Abdulmutallab made, and not even the most recent known one.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. Jessica says:

    I know you’ve noted this several times before, but Awlaki was targeted a few (several?) times before they killed him, right? Did they try to kill him before Undie 1.0?

    *Edited for clarity – Did they try to kill Awlaki before the Undie 1.0 incident?

  2. P J Evans says:

    I think it’s safe to say that the DOJ and the WH will use the version that makes them look best, even if it’s the least truthful.

  3. orionATL says:

    @Jessica:

    dec 24, 2009 (yemeni) air force bombs awlaki with, one presumes, intent to kill

    dec 25, 2009 nutty nigerian fails to ignite bomb in his underwear over detroit christmas sky

  4. Frank33 says:

    @orionATL:
    The Bomb did ignite. It caused a potentially catastrophic fire, quickly extinguished by passengers and crew. Kurt Haskell said there was a person video recording the event. Undie was severely burned, but remained silent, suggesting he had been drugged.

  5. Jessica says:

    Thanks, guys. I may be a layperson, but it sure seems to me that it then cannot be said he was killed for his role in the Christmas Day bombing. Or should I say, that excuse shouldn’t hold water for a layperson, one that thinks people should be afforded the opportunity to defend oneself. I have no doubt that insiders and officials have 50 justifications for it, many that may meet current legal “standards”.

  6. orionATL says:

    @Frank33:

    tx.

    i knew he had been burned. i hadn’t heard about being drugged.

    as i recall people who have been badly burned have ~24 hour grace period before severe pain sets in.

Comments are closed.