An American-Yemeni Islamic cleric suspected of ties to al- Qaida has said the Nigerian accused in the failed Christmas airliner attack was his student but that he did not tell him to carry out the operation.
The US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (right) is believed by US officials to be working with al- Qaida's offshoot in Yemen, which has claimed responsibility for planning the attempt to bomb an American passenger jet.
Al-Awlaki is also known to have had contacts with the US Army major accused in the November 5 shooting rampage at the Fort Hood military base.
Yemeni officials have said they believe al-Awlaki met in Yemen with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused in the Christmas bombing.
Al-Awlaki, who is believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Yemen, spoke in an interview with a Yemeni journalist who reported it to the Al-Jazeera website.
It was not clear when the interview took place or whether it took place in person. The journalist, one of the few said to have direct contacts with al-Awlaki, previously interviewed the cleric after the Fort Hood shooting.
“Brother mujahed Umar Farouk — may God relieve him — is one of my students, yes,” al-Awlaki said in the interview on Al-Jazeera's website. “We had kept in contact, but I didn't issue a fatwa to Umar Farouk for this operation,” al-Awlaki was quoted as saying.
Al-Awlaki said he supported the Christmas attack, but it would have been better if the target was a US military target or plane.
“I support what Umar Farouk did after seeing my brothers in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan being killed,” he was quoted as saying. “If it was a military plane or a US military target it would have been better... (but) the American people have participated in all the crimes of their government.”
“Some 300 Americans are nothing compared to thousands Muslims they have killed,” he said.
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents and who once preached in mosques in California and northern Virginia, moved to his ancestral hometown in Yemen in 2004.
He has become popular among Islamic militant sympathisers for his English-language internet sermons, in which he explains to young Muslims the philosophy of violent jihad and martyrdom against the West and its allied Muslim and Arab governments.