U.S. Embassy in Yemen Shut Down
WASHINGTON - The United States took the rare step of closing its embassy in Yemen in the face of what administration officials described as active plans by al-Qaeda to strike U.S. targets in the capital, Sana.
"Al-Qaeda is determined to carry out attacks and be successful," John Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. "We keep thwarting their attacks, but they keep pressing."
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen provided training and equipment for the Nigerian who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day, President Obama said Saturday. Brennan, who is leading a White House review of the incident, denied there were parallels to the intelligence shortcomings before the 9/11 attacks. "Clearly the system didn't work," said Brennan, who made the administration's case on four Sunday TV shows. "We had a problem in terms of why (Umar Farouk) Abdulmutallab got on that plane." Still, he said there was no "smoking gun" and no deliberate attempts by agencies to withhold information from one another.
Brennan indicated that prosecutors have offered the 23-year-old a deal to tell what he knows about al-Qaeda. "He knows there are certain things that are on the table," Brennan said without elaborating on NBC's Meet the Press.
Obama meets Tuesday with Brennan and other top aides to review what happened in the failure to identify Abdulmutallab as a possible threat and prevent him from boarding the international flight. The president and his family were scheduled to leave Honolulu late Sunday after a 11-day vacation, arriving at the White House just before noon today.
The foiled bombing has intensified the focus on Yemen, a nation that is increasingly seen as a haven for al-Qaeda, and fueled questions about closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On Saturday, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, on an unannounced visit to Yemen, said the U.S. will double the $70 million in security aid it gave the nation last year. On Fox News Sunday, Brennan was asked if the U.S. might send troops there. "We're not talking about that at this point," he replied.
In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he and Obama had agreed to help fund a counterterrorism police unit in Yemen. Britain also closed its embassy in Sana.
Meanwhile, some congressional Democrats urged the White House to reconsider plans to send about half of the 90 Yemenis now in Cuba back to Yemen. "We should review again where we're going to send the detainees," California Rep. Jane Harman, a member of the Homeland Security Committee who supports closing the prison, said on ABC's This Week.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who opposes closing Guantanamo, said, "We know from past experience that some of them will be back in the fight."
Brennan gave no ground, saying the administration returned six Yemenis last month and planned to send more. "Guantanamo has been used as a propaganda tool by al-Qaeda. . . . We need to close that facility," he said.
Brennan sharply criticized former vice president Dick Cheney for saying Obama wasn't acknowledging that the U.S. was at war with terrorists. He said Cheney was "willfully mischaracterizing this president's position."
Tom Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, said the Obama administration had been distracted by the economy, health care and other issues before the Dec. 25 incident. "They weren't giving this enough attention," Kean said on CNN. The incident "probably did us a favor."