US disrupts latest AQAP airline plot


US officials announced yesterday that the CIA had foiled a major bomb plot by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula against the United States which had been apparently timed for the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, May 2.

The thwarted plot, which involved a suicide bomber wearing an underwear bomb on an airliner bound for the US, was disrupted within the past 10 days when US authorities seized the device, according to Reuters. It is unclear whether the would-be bomber has been detained or is still at large. The bomber was apparently based in Yemen, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

In announcing the foiling of the attack, the Obama administration stated that because the plot had been discovered at an early stage, it never presented a danger to the public. The president had been made aware of the plot in April. On April 26 and May 1, the US government issued statements saying that it had no credible information about specific terrorist plots that were timed to coincide with the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.

US officials said that infiltration by a "Yemen insider" led to the breakup of the plot, according to the BBC. Other intelligence agencies aided the CIA in the seizure of the bomb device, which is currently being examined by the FBI. The Yemeni source has apparently been moved to a safe location out of the country.

The bomb itself is reported to be a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb devised by master AQAP bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri for the failed Christmas Day 2009 airliner plot. According to Reuters, a US official said the latest bomb reflected an improved capacity for detonation, and was probably the work of Asiri. And like previous bombs developed by him, it is non-metallic, so less detectable by airport scanners. A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that it is also possible the bomb was made by one of Asiri's "students."

The recent airliner bomb plot has surfaced as the US is increasingly turning its attention to Yemen and al Qaeda's affiliate there, AQAP. Over the past year, AQAP has gained control of vast areas of southern Yemen. In an attempt to counter the growing strength of the al Qaeda affiliate, the US has ramped up drone and conventional airstrikes in Yemen, with 14 confirmed strikes already this year compared to 10 strikes in all of 2011. [For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2012.]

Two days ago, the US killed senior al Qaeda operative Fahd al Quso in a drone strike in Shabwa province. Quso was wanted for his role in the failed Christmas Day 2009 airline plot as well as the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and he led a terror cell in Yemen. US Representative Peter King said the strike that killed Quso was part of the same operation that foiled the latest underwear bomb plot, the BBC reported.

US and European officials are currently on the lookout for other AQAP bombs that may have as yet escaped detection, according to ABC. It was reported last week that increasing numbers of air marshals have been deployed to protect US-bound flights originating from Europe. Security officials are also concerned that terrorist bombmakers may resort to internal bombs, which are surgically implanted in suicide bombers. Asiri developed a similar bomb used in February 2009 against a Saudi official.

Senior AQAP bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri remains at large. He was thought to have been killed in the September 2011 US drone strike that killed senior AQAP ideologue Anwar al Awlaki, but Asiri was subsequently reported to be alive.



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READER COMMENTS: "US disrupts latest AQAP airline plot"

Posted by Devin Leonard at May 8, 2012 2:24 PM ET:

The CIA has really become a first class counter-terror operation since 9/11...hats off to those boys.

Posted by Will Fenwick at May 8, 2012 2:26 PM ET:

Its rather amazing that American operations against AQAP are as limited as they are considering the serious threat AQAP presents to the United States. One would think that at the very least their would be American commando raids against AQAP positions and heavy naval and air support given the decrepit state of the Yemeni Navy and Airforce. One would think that American fire support missions would be called in on a regular basis.

Posted by TarantinoDork at May 8, 2012 2:53 PM ET:

Stunning intelligence operation. Simultaneously achieving the following:

1.) Getting our hands on Asiri's latest bomb design.

2.) An inside view of how AQAP's external operations wing operates.

3.) Effectively sending AQAP on a wild goose chase, devoting time and resources to a terror attack that would never come to fruition.

4.) Getting AQAP to look over their shoulders a little more...breed a little more distrust in the ranks after the revelation that someone they trusted with one of Asiri's bombs turned out to be a spy.

5.) And oh yeah, bringing down Fahd al Quso...one of the most slippery terrorists in Al Qaeda's ranks who had his fingers in 9/11, the USS Cole bombing, the Millenium plot, & the first underwear bomber.

Hats off to all responsible for this op.

Posted by David Forscey at May 8, 2012 5:31 PM ET:

It's all about that HUMINT...

Posted by JRP at May 8, 2012 5:51 PM ET:

Enough with the back-slapping. All this latest story proves is what I and others have been saying for a long time; namely, these people are relentless. In fact, I daresay Al Qaida is the most relentless enemy ever faced by the U.S. It is beyond "unconditional surrender". To defeat AQ we have to extirmate it.

Ever since the first World Trade Center bombing in Feb. 1993 AQ has shown itself willing to hang in there year after year after year till achieving whatever goal it has set for itself.

Make no mistake about it, we can't just declare victory and go home. AQ will follow, nukes in tow.

Posted by David at May 8, 2012 10:15 PM ET:

Don't congratulate the CIA on this one, props to the Saudis, instead. According to NYT, it was a Saudi double agent, the bomber himself actually, who infiltrated the network, was given the bomb, and then traveled back to Saudi to give it to Saudi intelligence, who shared it with us.

I have to say, I have never heard of CIA infiltrating one of these groups, so maybe this isn't surprising...

Posted by Mr. Nobody at May 8, 2012 11:39 PM ET:

What strikes me is the report that a possible 'student' of Asiri had built the device. If that is true then the obvious question is how many 'students' are there and in what stages are they in the preparation and/or deployment of similar devices that we don't yet know about?

Posted by Villiger at May 9, 2012 1:43 AM ET:

David, thanks for the info. Well, just proves that Saudi is the oracle at the centre of all this jihad, by first and foremost, being the propagator of violent Wahhabism (especially thru their education systems/brain-washing) and second, by financing this.

Saudi Arabia is as much a double-dealer as its sub-servient Paqistan.

The US is not cutting the roots of the problem cohesively or concertedly, by the effective use of soft power.

Still, credit to all for this intervention, but admit it we can't bank on luck.

Posted by Dave B at May 9, 2012 10:56 AM ET:

Today's news not only identifies the source as the intended bomber, but also indicates that he provided the intelligence resulting in the drone killing of his AQAP commander and chief bomb maker Quso a couple days ago, before hauling the bomb into Saudi Arabia.

This is one courageous guy to whom the U.S. is deeply indebted. I'm talking sanctuary in the U.S., if he wants it, including close family, green cards, citizenship, and full ride living expenses for however long needed to build a new life.

Posted by mike merlo at May 9, 2012 4:17 PM ET:

A part of me was wondering how come this 'information' wasn't being kept secret. But after having thought about 'it' for awhile 3 issues come to mind all of which of course are intimately related.

1) the Intel Community is doing a CYA because by their own admission the latest bomb is indetectable so that means there is a strong possibility of an aircraft being taken down.

2) by going public they're hopping maybe to convince the bomber not to make the attempt.

3) of course Obama will use anything he can to get reelected

Posted by Moon at May 9, 2012 7:57 PM ET:

This administration DOES NOT know the meaning of CLASSIFIED INFORMATION. They all race to see who can squeal the most information first. After Loose Lips back-stabbed Israel by leaking the info about Azerbaijan, but of course they can be more flexible after the election! None of us needed to know any of the information about the above mentioned potential plane bombing. We do not need to be releasing any of the Taliban prisoners, either.

Posted by JRP at May 11, 2012 12:31 PM ET:

@Moon . . . Notwithstanding that you're probably right, many of us who follow the LWJ site hunger for good news in the WoT. Using your reasoning, I pray that there is a lot of good news out there that our Gov't has not released to the public.