WASHINGTON - A regional wing of al Qaeda claimed responsibility on Monday for a failed Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound passenger plane, saying it was to avenge U.S. attacks on the group in Yemen.
In a statement posted on Islamist websites, the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said it had provided the Nigerian suspect in the attempt with a technically advanced device but that it had failed to detonate because of a technical fault.
The group also urged the killing of Western embassy workers in the region as part of an all out war on Crusaders.
President Barack Obama will make a statement on Monday about the incident, including outlining steps the administration has taken to ensure air safety, the White House said.
It will be Obama's first public statement on the December 25 incident in which Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is charged with smuggling explosives on board and attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet as it approached Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.
He will describe the immediate steps the government has taken to ensure the safety of the travelling public, White House spokesman Bill Burton said, referring to Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii.
He believes it is critical we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism, and he will reference the fact that we need to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country.
Abdulmutallab has told U.S. investigators that al Qaeda operatives in Yemen supplied him with an explosive device and trained him on how to detonate it, officials said over the weekend.
The Obama administration admitted on Monday that the Christmas Day incident represented a failure of air travel security.
Asked on NBC's Today Show on Monday if the security system failed miserably, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano replied: It did.
Abdulmutallab, who was travelling with a valid U.S. visa although he was on a broad U.S. list of possible security threats, was overpowered by passengers and crew on the Northwest Airlines flight 253 after setting alight an explosive device attached to his body. He was treated for burns and is in federal prison awaiting trial in the incident.
In Nigeria, Abdulmutallab's family said they had reported his disappearance to security agencies months ago after becoming concerned about his increasing militancy.
Obama is under pressure from opposition Republicans who have been critical of his response to the scare and have questioned whether his administration is doing enough to contain security threats.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it had stepped up preflight screening in the United States and Europe. The TSA did not give details, but air travellers described new restrictions on flights headed for the United States, including additional preflight screening, and -- an hour before landing -- a ban on movement around the cabin and on having items such as blankets on passengers' laps.
The security scare drove airline stocks down in New York. AMR Corp, the parent of American Airlines, lost 4.8 percent to $7.75, while Delta Air Lines Inc dropped 4.4 percent to $11.25. The NYSE Arca Airline index shed 1.7 percent.
(Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat in Dubai, Debbie Charles and Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Chuck Mikolajczak in New York, Jeff Mason in Kailua and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Jackie Frank, editing by Frances Kerry)