New underwear bomb made to foil security

2012-05-09 22:19

Washington - Al-Qaeda designed a bomb to slip inside form-fitting, brief-style underwear in hopes it would go undetected even if the bomber received an airport pat-down, US officials said on Wednesday, describing a plot that they said was directly overseen by a high-level al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.

The plot never had a chance, though, because the would-be bomber was actually a double-agent working for Saudi Arabia's security services. Saudi officials worked with the CIA to deliver the sophisticated new bomb directly to the US government, according to current a former US officials briefed

The operation was a victory on multiple fronts. Not only did it prevent an attack and give the US a look at al-Qaeda's latest deadly invention, but the double agent also provided some of the information that led to the drone strike last weekend that killed Fahd al-Quso, two former officials said.

Al-Quso, whom the US believes was al-Qaeda's chief of external operations in Yemen, personally met with the would-be bomber and instructed him to pick a US-bound plane to attack on the day of his choosing, the officials said.

The current and former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to public discuss the operation.

The FBI is still analysing the explosive but officials described it as an upgrade over the bomb that fizzled aboard a plane over Detroit in 2009. This new device contained no metal and utilised the chemical lead azide, which is known as a reliable detonator. After the Detroit attack failed, al-Qaeda used lead azide as the detonator in a nearly successful 2010 plot against cargo planes.

Despite the sophistication of this latest underwear bomb, security officials said they believed bombs like it could have been detected by airport body scanners or security pat-downs, which have become commonplace in US airports since the failed 2009 attack.

Procedures overseas, however, can be uneven. The US cannot force other countries to permanently adopt the expensive and intrusive measures that have become common in American airports over the past decade.

In human hands

"I would not expect any real changes for the travelling public," House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, a Republican, said. "There is a concern that overseas security doesn't match ours. That's an ongoing challenge."

The Transportation Security Administration sent advice on Tuesday to some international air carriers and airports about security measures that might stave off an attack from a hidden explosive.

It's the same advice the US has issued before, but there was a thought that it might get new attention in light of the foiled plot.

All passengers on US-bound flights are checked against terrorist watch lists and law enforcement databases.

"Even if our technology is good enough to spot it, the technology is still in human hands and we are inherently fallible," said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "And overseas, we have varying degrees of security depending on where the flight originates."

Authorities believe that, like the 2009 bomb and the printer bombs, this latest device is the handiwork of either al-Qaeda's master bomb maker in Yemen, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, or one of his students.

- AP
Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  us  |  yemen  |  air travel  |  us terror threat
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