Sunday, October 31, 2010

U.S. Sees Complexity of Bombs as Link to Al Qaeda

Via -

The powerful bombs concealed inside cargo packages and destined for the United States were expertly constructed and unusually sophisticated, American officials said Saturday, further evidence that Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen is steadily improving its abilities to strike on American soil.

As investigators on three continents conducted forensic analyses of two bombs shipped from Yemen and intercepted Friday in Britain and Dubai, American officials said evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks.

Yemeni officials on Saturday announced the arrest of a young woman and her mother in connection with the plot, which also may have involved two language schools in Yemen. The two women were not identified, but a defense lawyer who has been in contact with the family, Abdul Rahman Barham, said the daughter was a 22 year-old engineering student at Sana University.

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said Saturday night during a news conference that Yemeni security forces had identified her based on a tip from American officials, but he did not indicate her suspected role.

Investigators said that the bomb discovered at the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates was concealed in a Hewlett-Packard desktop printer, with high explosives packed into a printer cartridge to avoid detection by scanners.

“The wiring of the device indicates that this was done by professionals,” said one official involved in the investigation, who like several officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry was continuing. “It was set up so that if you scan it, all the printer components would look right.”

The bomb discovered in Britain was also hidden in a printer cartridge.


American officials said their operating assumption was that the two bombs were the work of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, Al Qaeda in Yemen’s top bomb-maker, whose previous devices have been more rudimentary, and also unsuccessful. Mr. Asiri is believed to have built both the bomb sewn into the underwear of the young Nigerian who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight last Dec. 25, and the suicide bomb that nearly killed Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Mohammed bin Nayef, months earlier. (In the second episode, American officials say, Mr. Asiri hid the explosives in a body cavity of his brother, the suicide bomber.)

Just as in the two previous attacks, the bomb discovered in Dubai contained the explosive PETN, according to the Dubai police and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security. This new plot, Ms. Napolitano said, had the “hallmarks of Al Qaeda.”


It was a call from Mr. bin Nayef, the Saudi intelligence chief, on Thursday evening to John O. Brennan, the White House senior counterterrorism official and former C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that set off the search, according to American officials. They said Mr. bin Nayef also notified C.I.A. officials in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has sometimes been a reluctant ally in America’s global campaign against radical militants. But it sees Yemen, its impoverished next door neighbor, as a different matter. The Saudis consider the Qaeda branch in Yemen its biggest security threat and Saudi intelligence has set up both a web of electronic surveillance and spies to penetrate the organization.


Originally born to a pious family in Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim is one of 85 people on the kingdom's list of wanted terrorists. After serving jail time in his home country, he fled to neighbouring Yemen two years ago with his brother Abdullah to become key members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has bases in the lawless mountain areas beyond the writ of central government.

The slightly-built 28-year-old, who is the son of a retired soldier, is believed to be the movement's resident bombmaking expert - skills he first put to chilling use in a suicide attack in which he recruited his own younger brother, Abdullah, 23, to act as the "martyr".


Explosive devices in cargo packages addressed to Chicago, Illinois, destinations appear to have been designed to detonate on their own, without someone having to set them off, the top White House counterterrorism official told CNN on Sunday.

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program that the sophisticated explosives could have been intended to blow up the air cargo planes carrying them, as suspected by British authorities.

"It is my understanding that these devices did not need somebody to detonate them," Brennan said, adding that U.S. authorities continued to investigate.

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