In claiming authorship for the failed terror attack, al Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula stated that their attack was in response to bombing raids by Yemeni forces on al Qaeda locations in Yemen. This explanation may be problematic given the time-line of events, and brings al Qaeda’s stated motivation into some question.

The difficulty with al Qaeda’s explanation is uncomplicated: the two attacks we’re aware of by Yemeni forces on al Qaeda occurred on December 17th and again on the 24th. However, Detroit bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab purchased his airline ticket prior to both attacks:

Harold Demuren, the head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, says Abdulmutallab’s ticket came from a KLM office in Accra, Ghana. Demuren said Monday that Abdulmutallab bought the $2,831 round-trip ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit via Amsterdam on Dec. 16.

He paid cash for the ticket and boarded the plane with just a single carry-on bag, reports [Jim] Axelrod.

Obviously, al Qaeda couldn’t have launched their own attack in retribution for Yemeni or US attacks that had not yet been launched against them. There may be some possibility that there were other, earlier attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen prior to the 17th, and it is these that al Qaeda was responding to. But here I’d like to explore another possible explanation–that al Qaeda originally had a different reason for the attack, and changed it in accordance with what was happening to them in Yemen after the attack had been set in motion.

Some evidence for an alternative motivation behind the attack is revealed in this report, an AP story in USA Today:

The San’a Institute for the Arabic Language [San'a, Yemen] told the Associated Press that Abdulmutallab was an Arabic student at the school in August. That has raised questions about what he did the rest of his time in Yemen. Administrators at the school said Monday that the director of the school, Muhammad al-Anisi, has spent two days being questioned by Yemeni security officials. He remained in custody Tuesday.

Al-Lozy later told the Associated Press authorities are also looking into Abdulmutallab’s frequent visits to a mosque in the old, historic part of the city and the people he was with during his stay in Yemen.

Students and administrators at the institute said Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Based on this report and others like it, there can be no question that the Israel/Palestine conflict was a motivating factor in Abdulmutallab’s recruitment and radicalization. But could it not also have been the original reason for the attack itself? The Detroit attack fell within two days of the one-year anniversary of Israel’s military action against Gaza in Operation Cast Lead.

Changing a rationale for attacks–while those attacks are underway–is something Americans are familiar with. We heard a series of alternative reasons for our own invasion of Iraq under George Bush, and these explanations continue to morph as time goes on.

Regardless of the questions raised about al Qaeda’s ‘official’ motive behind the Detroit attack, it is clear that the plight of Palestinians was part of the bomber’s personal motivation, and likely played a major role both in his radicalization and recruitment. It is important to note that the motivating and driving force behind an individual terrorist can be quite distinct from that of his organization (al Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula). The bomber was not radicalized, or recruited, by attacks in Yemen that had not yet occurred. Based on the information currently available, he was motivated by what he perceived to be Palestinian suffering and injustice. This is an obvious fact that US leadership seems unable to grasp, to the world’s detriment.