Bomb plot shows Qaeda skill: analysts
Doha - In sending parcel bombs from Yemen to the United States, al-Qaeda's Yemen-based branch has demonstrated an extraordinary sense of innovation and adaptation to international security measures, experts say.
Two parcel bombs were discovered en route to the United States in late October, one in Britain and the other in Dubai, in a plot claimed by Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"Yet again, they have shown they are technically on top," said Dominique Thomas, a specialist in AQAP at l'Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales in Paris.
"They had already infiltrated Saudi security to mount an attack against (a) prince," Thomas said, referring to Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who survived an attack by a suicide bomber in August 2009.
And "they showed with the Nigerian on the plane on December 25 that they could pass security screening and mount a bomb attack on an airline", he said. "They have shown they know how to identify system weaknesses and use them."
On Christmas day last year, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab carried out a failed attempt to set off explosives on a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight, in a plot claimed by AQAP.
Former French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere warned that the way AQAP changes its methods to stay one step ahead of security and intelligence services makes it one of al-Qaeda's most dangerous franchises.
They are "opportunistic and react very quickly. They note the weaknesses of the enemy and use them", Bruguiere said at the Interpol general assembly being held in Doha.
In the latest case, "they noted that cargo transport does not have the same security as passenger planes. We avoided a tragedy", he said.
The deadly explosive PETN, which is very difficult to detect, was employed in the parcel plot, the attempted Christmas airliner bombing and the attack on Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
And in all three attempts, the explosive was well-concealed - hidden within printer ink cartridges in the parcels, in Abdulmutallab's underwear, and either under the robes or inside the body of the man who attacked Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Washington has said that Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi believed to be hiding out in Yemen, is the prime suspect in the package bomb plot, but Thomas said that "there are several within AQAP who have this type of skill".
Familiarity with the west
"They lack neither explosives experts nor hardened militants," he said.
AQAP has various members who are familiar with the West, and this makes them more dangerous, said Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, which is based in Dubai.
AQAP has "people who have lived or studied in the West", and "they understand the Western mentality", Karasik said.
Among such members is Anwar al-Awlaqi, a radical US-Yemeni imam who has been accused of links with Major Nidal Hasan, suspected of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas, and of having had contact with Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up the plane on Christmas Day.
Awlaqi has been charged in absentia in Yemen with incitement to kill foreigners in connection with the murder of a French energy contractor there.
High security costs
Karasik said that the parcel bomb plot was small and "easy to do, and yes, it failed, but the effect they got was fairly significant".
"If they succeed in destroying a single cargo plane," he said, "the additional cost of security will be tremendous."
In its statement claiming the package plot, AQAP called for more explosive parcels to be sent to "enlarge the circle of its application to include civilian aircraft in the West as well as cargo aircraft", according to the US-based SITE monitoring service.
"They will continue," Thomas said. "Their objective is to hit the US, hoping for an excessive reaction from Washington" that would draw the US into Yemen, and mire its forces there.