The suspect in the Christmas Day plane bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, resumed co-operating with American investigators last week after members of his own family intervened, officials have revealed.
The FBI brought Mr Abdulmutallab's relatives from Nigeria to the US last month, and said they had been pivotal in persuading the Nigerian to reopen dialogue after weeks of staying silent. The family was "instrumental in gaining Mr Abdulmutallab's co-operation," a senior official told ABC News. "It has been very successful," the official said, "as far as gaining his co-operation that will allow us then to follow up on that information". He added that the information "has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community".
The development was revealed in a flurry of leaks from a White House that has been harshly criticised for its handling of the case.
Many on Capitol Hill have voiced outrage that FBI agents did not treat Mr Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant, and read him his rights after just 50 minutes of interrogation.
It was a terrible mistake to "treat a foreign terrorist who had tried to murder hundreds of people as if he were a common criminal", Susan Collins, a Republican Senator from Maine, said.
The first indication that Mr Abdulmutallab had started talking again emerged during hearings at the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, and Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told committee members that the suspect had resumed offering information.
According to ABC, two FBI counter-terrorism experts arrived in Nigeria on 1 January to probe the suspect's background and seek help from other US agencies with a presence in the country, including the CIA. After family members signalled their interest in persuading Mr Abdulmutallab to resume helping the investigation, a number of them flew to the US with the FBI team on 17 January. The suspect reportedly began talking again last Thursday.
It is unclear if the news will quell the furious debate about the handling of the case. Republicans have argued it was wrong to treat him like a regular American citizen and accord him his Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and meet with a lawyer.
"There's no changing the fact that Mirandizing Abdulmutallab gave terrorists a six-week head start to cover their tracks," insisted Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We will never know what life-saving information on co-conspirators and future plots we missed out on."
These complaints ignore the 300 terror cases that were pursued by the Bush administration where suspects, including the British shoe-bomber, Richard Reid, were also read their rights.
There has been little surprise that the suspect's family agreed to intervene. Mr Abdulmutallab's father approached US authorities weeks before the bombing attempt to warn them about his son's apparent radicalisation by extremist Muslims.
"One of the principal reasons why his family came back is because they had complete trust in the US system of justice and believed that Umar Farouq would be treated fairly and appropriately," one US official said. "And that they would be as well."
Mr Blair also warned at the Senate hearing that the US should expect al-Qa'ida to attempt another attack on US soil within the next three to six months.Reuse content