“Wait until you are in the US, then bring the plane down.” Those were the final words of advice from US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before the latter tried to set off a bomb aboard a jet in 2009. The device fizzled and Abdulmutallab was caught, and now the New York Times has obtained documents that detail his interviews with the FBI and make clear that Awlaki played a big role in the plot. The cleric recruited and mentored the young Nigerian, telling him, "the attack should occur on board a US airliner." He even helped Abdulmutallab work through his anxiety about killing civilians, guiding him to think of them as "collateral damage." The documents, obtained after a two-year fight over a FOIA request, are of note because they shed light on the US justification for killing Awlaki in a drone strike in 2011.
At the time, former President Obama drew criticism because it was the first such presidential order against a US civilian. The story also reveals an interesting note about the failed bombing: Abdulmutallab had been watching the plane's path on a seat-back screen, and he went to the lavatory as the jet neared the US border to make final preparations. He thought about detonating his bomb in the bathroom but went back to his seat to make sure the plane was indeed over the US. There, the bomb failed to detonate, and Abdulmutallab was subdued as he tried to remedy the situation. The documents show that he later spoke willingly and at length about al-Qaeda after his family visited and encouraged him. That, notes the Times, could bolster the arguments of those who oppose President Trump's wish to bring back harsh interrogations. (Read the full story.)