Ahmed Al-Haj and Sarah El Deeb / Associated Press

San'a, Yemen -- A radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric suspected of ties to al-Qaida has said the Nigerian accused in the failed Christmas airliner attack was his student but that he didn't tell him to carry out the operation, Al-Jazeera television reported.

The U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, is believed by U.S. officials to be working with al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen, which has claimed responsibility for planning the attempt to bomb an American passenger jet. Al-Awlaki also is known to have had contacts with the U.S. Army major accused in the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at the Fort Hood military base.

Yemeni officials have said they believe al-Awlaki met in Yemen with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused in the Christmas bombing.

Al-Awlaki said he supported the Christmas attack, but it would have been better if the target was a U.S. military target or plane.

"Some 300 Americans are nothing compared to thousands Muslims they have killed," he said

Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents and who once preached in mosques in California and northern Virginia, moved to his ancestral hometown in Yemen in 2004. He has become popular among Islamic militant sympathizers for his English-language Internet sermons, in which he explains to young Muslims the philosophy of violent jihad and martyrdom against the West and its allied Muslim and Arab governments.

Al-Awlaki exchanged up to 20 e-mails with the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood attack, U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan months before it. Hasan initiated the contacts, seeking religious advice
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