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Yemen ties of Northwest bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab test Guantanamo plans

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The Obama administration’s plans to shut down the Guantánamo Bay prison facility in Cuba are running into new challenges as information becomes available about the extent of Christmas bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s ties to Yemen. Nearly half of remaining Guantánamo detainees are from Yemen.

Abdulmutallab is in custody in Michigan after trying to detonate a bomb ,sewn into his underwear, on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. The bomb contained approximately twice as much explosive as was used by convicted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, and “could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft,” according to the Washington Post.

The attack has been linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an Al Qaeda cell active in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The BBC reports that the group claimed responsibility for the attempted attack in a Web posting, calling it a retaliation for US attacks on its operatives in Yemen and posting photographs of Abdulmutallab in front of its banners.

The BBC also reports that Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Muslim, a student at University College London, and the son of a wealthy banker, was living in Yemen as recently as early December on a student visa to study Arabic in the capital, Sanaa.

The attempted Christmas Day attack is focusing more international attention on Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, much of which has been organized by former detainees from Guantánamo Bay, reports Al Jazeera. Two of its leaders have been linked to the US-run island prison: Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi, a field commander, and Said al-Shihri, its deputy leader, who was transferred to Saudi custody and then released in 2007.

Yemen’s allegedly growing Al Qaeda problem, and its long reach into the US, may begin to challenge to US plans to close the prison complex and resettling dozens of prisoners in their home countries.

Republicans have led the charge, according to Politico, with Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan saying the attempted attack “just highlights the fact that sending this many people back — or any people back — to Yemen right now is a really bad idea…. It’s just dumb. If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.”

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