Officials: Terror Suspect Talking To Investigators
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The young Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down a U.S. plane on Christmas Day is talking. Officials say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been provided useful intelligence for weeks now. The FBI has been under fire for reading him his rights soon after they arrested him. Critics say after that, he clammed up and U.S. authorities lost out on valuable intelligence.
But NPR has learned that Abdulmutallab wasnt quiet for long. NPRs Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story, and joins us from New York.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Well, how much and what is he saying?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, officials familiar with the investigation told us that Abdulmutallab has been naming names and providing operational details about how he got trained, where he was trained and who helped him get the explosives on that Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day.
MONTAGNE: So what was that about, him stopping talking after he was reading his - after he was read his Miranda rights that first day?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there were a lot of reports about that, but that wasnt exactly true. We understand that he was talking that first day, Christmas Day. And the FBI was trying to determine how broad the plot was. And we get a sense of what happened that day from FBI director Robert Mueller. He testified yesterday, and heres what he said.
Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): First of all, we had to determine whether there were any - in the initial interview, we had to determine whether there were other bombs on the plane, whether there were other planes that had similar attacks contemplated. I wanted to understand who the bomb maker was, who had directed him. All of that came in the first series of questions.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, that was the initial interrogation. And then Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and he got a lawyer, and he briefly stopped talking. But what were learning is that he started talking again. And one of those reasons was because the FBI went to Nigeria to convince his family to come and get him to cooperate.
And they flew to the U.S. about three weeks ago. And they helped convince him to talk to authorities. And as soon as they did that, Abdulmutallab started naming names of people and helping authorities locate al-Qaida training centers he allegedly visited in Yemen. And his information, we understand, was at least partly responsible for the arrest of 10 people in Malaysia last week.
MONTAGNE: So that would seem to be, what, the incentive for him to give up all this information that his family got in the picture. Was there more?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, theres more. I mean, the family clearly added pressure. But officials are telling me that hes really worried about seeming like he lost his nerve. Hes very devout, and wanted to make sure that people knew that he actually intended to martyr himself on that flight and didn't, you know, mess up the bomb on purpose.
And interrogators are really skilled at using that kind of information to get details. I mean, Mueller said yesterday that this is all part of a continuum, that investigators are building on what they learn on day one and day two and day three. And then they can piece that all together and get valuable intelligence that they can act upon. And thats whats been happening for weeks now.
MONTAGNE: you know, we just have a few seconds, but I'm wondering, Dina: You know, is it that he was young or possibly inexperienced? I mean, is there a reason why one person will talk and another will hold out?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it has to do with their spirit and the way they set up a rapport with FBI interrogators. And from what I understand, the rapport between FBI interrogators and Abdulmutallab is very good, and theyre able to build on the information that hes been giving them. Theyre trying to check out that information now.
MONTAGNE: Dina, thanks very much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Thats NPRs Dina Temple-Raston, speaking to us from New York.
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