The good news? Apparently our intel in Yemen is sharp enough that this guy was picked up before he’d even chosen a target.
The bad news? The bomb is a more sophisticated version of the underwear device worn by Abdulmutallab in his failed attempt on Christmas Day 2009. Which is to say, no one’s sure yet whether those fancy new TSA scanners would have picked this thing up had the bomber tried to board a plane in the U.S.
The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said 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 operation unfolded even as the White House and Department of Homeland Security assured the American public that they knew of no al-Qaida plots against the U.S. around the 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 it 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 Tuesday…
It’s not clear who built the bomb, but, because of its sophistication and its similarity to the Christmas 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.
Not the only recent U.S. intel coup in Yemen: Just last night, news broke that one of the plotters in the U.S.S. Cole bombing was hit with a missile while stepping out of his car in a southern part of the country. Ten days before that, WaPo reported that Obama had greenlit the use of “signature strikes” by CIA drones in Yemen for cases in which the target is a suspected jihadi but his identity isn’t known. I’m curious to hear more about how they nabbed the airplane plotter. Assuming any details are forthcoming, that’ll give us more of a clue about U.S. intel’s reach inside the country. Stand by for updates.
Update: Obama was briefed on the plot sometime in April. If you’re wondering why the White House didn’t mention it during Bin Laden week, follow the link up top and read the AP piece. The AP learned of it last week but kept quiet about it because the operation to grab the bomber was still under way. Only now was it safe to report.
Update: NRO’s Greg Pollowitz raises a good question on Twitter: Where’s the bomber now and how is he being interrogated?
Update: One question mark is the bomber. The other is the bombmaker:
It’s unclear who built the bomb, but the device does bear similarities to other explosive devices built by master bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri. However, Asiri may not have been directly involved in this plot.
According to one official, there is “evidence that Asiri has passed along his bomb-making knowledge to others.” The official would not say whether Asiri or an apprentice were involved in this plot.
In an exclusive meeting, a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that Asiri posed the single most dangerous threat to the United States.
According to the official, Asiri is the most capable of carrying out al-Qaida’s threat to launch a significant terrorist attack to kill Americans inside the United States.
Update: Things are starting to come together. Fahd Al-Quso, the U.S.S. Cole plotter liquidated in yesterday’s missile strike, had a hand in the foiled bomb plot:
Al-Quso had replaced Anwar al Awlaki as head of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
He was continuing the terrorist group’s plans to take down an international airliner with an explosive — one foiled in recent days, government officials say…
U.S. government sources tell ABC News that Al-Quso and Asiri continued to plan for a similar terrorist attack, using a small IED that could be hidden on a person, with the same goal of bringing down an international airline…
The IED was on its way to the individual who would carry out the operation when it was intercepted by law enforcement forces.
I assume that Obama’s approval of “signature strikes” in Yemen was also made with this plot in mind, in order to give Petraeus a better shot at taking out al-Quso and/or Asiri, but we’ll have to wait for more details on that.
Update: Last time, AQ put all its chips on Abdulmutallab to take down a plane. This time, they might have diversified:
U.S. and European officials say that even though an al Qaeda bomber was stopped before he could board a plane for the U.S., the threat is far from over — there are believed to be several other would-be bombers with similar non-metallic devices that could get through most airport security screening…
“The FBI currently has possession of the IED and is conducting technical and forensics analysis on it,” said the FBI in a statement. “Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to [bombs] that have been used previously by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks.” White House officials said President Obama was briefed on the plot in April by his counter-terror advisor, John Brennan.