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U.S. closes embassy in Yemen amid threat

As the U.K. follows the U.S. move in Sanaa, those at school where would-be Northwest bomber studied describe a "good person."

Abdulmutallab, like Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamic cleric who lavished praise upon the man who killed 12 people in Fort Hood in early November, fits an unusual, but increasingly common profile of Islamic extremists.

Highly educated and wealthy, both men earned degrees at western universities, and were leaders among their peers.

“[Abdulmutallab] is and example of a new generation of Al Qaeda,” said Hassan.

Both Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Abdulmutallab communicated with Al-Awlaki, who resides in Yemen and is believed to mentor and recruit violent extremists. Al-Awlaki was reported dead from air strikes against Al Qaeda leaders on Dec. 24. A week later, a Yemeni journalist told Newsweek Al-Awlaki had called to report that he was still alive.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, suffering from two violent insurgencies, water shortages and a looming oil crisis, is packed with disenfranchised young men. As Al Qaeda gains strength, according to Hassan, the number of new recruits could be “unlimited.”

“How many [depressed] young people would like their friends and family to see them on international TV before they die?” he asked. “They’re heroes.”

But Abdulmutallab’s brief career as a terrorist ended without death or martyrdom. He failed to detonate the bomb sewn into his beige underwear. Passengers and crew apprehended him before his flaming clothes caused injuries to anyone but himself.

And the young man known at the language institute for quiet devotion, generosity, and a quick smile faces up to 20 years in a federal prison. “I can’t imagine that there was a such a bad person living in our hostel, and studying at our school,” said director Al-Anisi, “It’s very sad.”

But the Al Qaeda plot has shined a stark spotlight on the danger the organization poses to the international community if it is allowed to thrive in Yemen’s lawless countryside. Even before the attempted attack, U.S.-backed air raids on Dec. 17 and 24 killed at least 60 suspected Al Qaeda operatives, according to the Yemeni government’s official news, Saba.

Now, Western leaders and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants are engaging in a battle of words, and appear to be gearing up for a showdown on the ground.