May 8 2012
Bomb experts are examining a sophisticated new al Qaida-designed underwear bomb to see if it is capable of beating security checks and being used to blow up a plane.
The CIA seized the bomb in a top secret operation before it could be used, and the Yemen-based would-be bomber had not yet picked a target. but souces said it was intended for a US-bound airliner around the May 2 anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
It did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have spotted it. The device is an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a plane over Detroit on Christmas 2009.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, said the discovery showed al Qaida remained 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."
There were no immediate plans to change security procedures at U.S. airports.
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 US. around the anniversary of bin Laden's death last week.
It is 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 who built the first underwear bomb and two others that al Qaida put in printer cartridges and sent to the US on cargo planes in 2010. Both used a powerful industrial explosive and 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.