WASHINGTON - Al Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki personally directed and approved the attempted bombing of a US airliner which a Nigerian man tried to carry out on Christmas Day in 2009, according to new details released by federal prosecutors on Friday.
Awlaki, who was a leader of the militant group's affiliate in Yemen, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), before he was killed in a drone strike last year, directed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to conduct a strike aboard an American airliner over US soil.
"Awlaki's last instructions to him were to wait until the airplane was over the United States and then to take the plane down," according to court papers. Awlaki left it up to Abdulmutallab to pick the flight and date, the papers said.
Awlaki also told him to avoid suspicion by not flying directly from Yemen to Europe. Instead, Abdulmutallab flew from Yemen to Ethiopia to Ghana and Nigeria before boarding a flight to Amsterdam and eventually Detroit.
Abdulmutallab, 25, is due to be sentenced Thursday in Detroit and faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges he tried to down a Northwest Airlines jumbo jet with 289 people aboard.