CIA derails plot with al-Qaida underwear bomb
experts are picking apart a sophisticated new al-Qaida improvised
explosive device, a top Obama administration counterterrorism official
said Tuesday, to determine if it could have slipped past airport
security and taken down a commercial airplane.
Officials told The
Associated Press a day earlier that discovery of the unexploded bomb
represented an intelligence prize resulting from a covert CIA operation
in Yemen, saying that the intercept thwarted a suicide mission around
the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The device did not contain
metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal
detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many
airports would have detected it. The device is an upgrade of the
underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on
Christmas 2009. Officials said this new bomb was also designed to be
used in a passenger's underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more
refined detonation system.
John Brennan, President
Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser, said Tuesday the discovery
shows al-Qaida remains a threat to U.S. security a year after bin
Laden's assassination. And he attributed the breakthrough to “very close
cooperation with our international partners.”
“We're continuing to
investigate who might have been associated with the construction of it
as well as plans to carry out an attack,” Brennan said. “And so we're
confident that this device and any individual that might have been
designed to use it are no longer a threat to the American people.”
On the question of whether
the device could have been gone undetected through airport security,
Brennan said, “It was a threat from a standpoint of the design.” He also
said there was no intelligence indicating it was going to be used in an
attack to coincide with the May 2 anniversary of bin Laden's death.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.,
chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Tuesday that “a
number of countries” provided information and cooperation that helped
foil the plot. He said he had no information on the would-be bomber, but
that White House officials had told him “He is no longer of concern,”
meaning no longer any threat to the U.S.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters
Monday night that she had been briefed Monday about an “undetectable”
device that was “going to be on a U.S.-bound airliner.”
There were no immediate plans to change security procedures at U.S. airports.
U.S. officials declined to
say where the CIA seized the bomb. The would-be suicide bomber, based in
Yemen, had not yet picked a target or purchased plane tickets when the
CIA seized the bomb, officials said. It was not immediately clear what
happened to the would-be bomber.
President Barack Obama had
been monitoring the operation since last month, the White House said
Monday evening. White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the
president was assured the device posed no threat to the public.
“The president thanks all
intelligence and counterterrorism professionals involved for their
outstanding work and for serving with the extraordinary skill and
commitment that their enormous responsibilities demand,” Hayden said.
Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton said: “The device did not appear to pose a threat to the
public air service, but the plot itself indicates that these terrorist
keep trying to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill
innocent people. And it a reminder of how we have to keep vigilant.”
Clinton spoke during a news conference Tuesday in New Delhi with Indian
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.
The operation unfolded even
as the White House and Homeland Security Department assured the public
that they knew of no al-Qaida plots against the U.S. around the
anniversary of bin Laden's death.
On May 1, the Homeland
Security Department said, “We have no indication of any specific,
credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the one-year
anniversary of bin Laden's death.”
The AP learned about the
thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not
to publish a story immediately because the sensitive intelligence
operation was still under way. Once officials said those concerns were
allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests
from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement
The FBI and Homeland
Security acknowledged the existence of the bomb late Monday. Other
officials, who were briefed on the operation, insisted on anonymity to
discuss details of the plot, many of which the U.S. has not officially
It's not clear who built
the bomb, but because of its sophistication and its similarity to the
Christmas Day bomb, authorities suspected it was the work of master bomb
maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Al-Asiri constructed the first underwear
bomb and two others that al-Qaida built into printer cartridges and
shipped to the U.S. on cargo planes in 2010.
Both of those bombs used a powerful industrial explosive. Both were nearly successful.
The new underwear bomb
operation is a reminder of al-Qaida's ambitions, despite the death of
bin Laden and other senior leaders. Because of instability in the Yemeni
government, the terrorist group's branch there has gained territory and
strength. It has set up terrorist camps and, in some areas, even
operates as a de facto government.
On Monday, al-Qaida
militants staged a surprise attack on a Yemeni army base in the south,
killing 22 soldiers and capturing at least 25. The militants managed to
reach the base both from the sea and by land, gunning down troops and
making away with weapons and other military hardware after the blitz,
Yemeni military officials said.
But the group has also
suffered significant setbacks as the CIA and the U.S. military focus
more on Yemen. On Sunday, Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaida leader, was
hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle along with another
operative in the southern Shabwa province of Yemen.
Al-Quso, 37, was on the
FBI's most wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading
to his capture. He was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the 2000
bombing of the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in which 17
American sailors were killed and 39 injured.
Al-Quso was believed to
have replaced Anwar al-Awlaki as the group's head of external
operations. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year.
The new Yemeni president,
Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has promised improved cooperation with the U.S.
to combat the militants. On Saturday, he said the fight against
al-Qaida was in its early stages. Hadi took over in February from
longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Brennan appeared on ABC's
“Good Morning America,” the “CBS This Morning” show and NBC's “Today”
show. King was interviewed on CNN.
Associated Press writers
Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram in Washington and Matthew
Lee in New Delhi contributed to this report.
Contact the Washington investigative team at DCinvestigations(at)ap.org
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