Associated Press – May 8, 2012
U.S. and Yemeni officials say the supposed would-be bomber at the heart of an al-Qaeda airliner plot was actually an informant working for the CIA.
The revelation, first reported by The Los Angeles Times, shows how the CIA was able to get its hands on a sophisticated underwear bomb well before an attack was set in motion.
Officials say the informant was working for the CIA and Saudi Arabian intelligence when he was given the bomb.
He then turned the device over to authorities.
Officials say the informant is safely out of Yemen.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive intelligence matter.
It was revealed yesterday that Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, one of America’s Most Wanted terrorists, wanted to bring down a U.S.-bound jetliner with a new and improved ‘undetectable’ version of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
The explosion was to be carried out, reports suggest, to mark the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The plot was to be similar to that of the original underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but with updated technology that was believed to be ‘undetectable’ by airport screening processes.
But the Yemen-based terrorist was killed by a missile fired by an unmanned CIA drone as he stepped out of a vehicle in a remote valley in the south of Yemen.
Two counter-terrorism officials told the New York Daily News they believed 37-year-old al-Quso, who had a $5million bounty on his head, was the key militant behind the plans.
Al-Quso was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the harbour of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed and 39 injured.
He was later believed to have replaced Anwar al-Awlaki as the Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula’s head of external operations when the latter was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year.
The FBI is now examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an aeroplane.
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.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday she had been briefed about an ‘undetectable’ device that was ‘going to be on a U.S.-bound airliner.’
There were no immediate plans to change security procedures at U.S. airports.
But there are reports, in the U.S. media, that last week the plot led the U.S. to order scores of air marshals to Europe to protect U.S.-bound aircraft.
Flights out of Gatwick Airport, in England, reportedly received 100 percent coverage, according to U.S. sources.
The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen and believed to be working for al-Quso, had not yet picked a target or bought his plane tickets when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said.
New York Congressman Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said counter-terrorism officials had said of the wannabe bomber: ‘We don’t have to worry about him any more.’
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Obama learned about the plot in April and was assured the device posed no threat to the public.
All passengers on U.S.-bound flights are checked against terrorist watch lists and law enforcement databases.
In some countries, U.S. officials are stationed in airports to offer advice on security matters. In some cases, though, the U.S. is limited to hoping that other countries follow the security advice from the Transportation Security Administration.
“Even if our technology is good enough to spot it, the technology is still in human hands and we are inherently fallible,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And overseas, we have varying degrees of security depending on where the flight originates.”
Al-Qaida has repeatedly tried to take advantage of those overseas gaps. The Christmas 2009 bombing originated in Amsterdam, where the bomber did not receive a full-body scan. And in 2010, terrorists smuggled bombs onto cargo jets, which receive less scrutiny than passenger planes.
In both those instances, the bombs were made by al-Qaida’s master bomb maker in Yemen, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Officials believe this latest bomb was the handiwork of al-Asiri or one of his students.
In the meantime, Americans traveled Tuesday with little apparent concern.
“We were nervous – for a minute,” said Nan Gartner, a retiree on her way to Italy from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. “But then we thought, we aren’t going anywhere near Yemen, so we’re OK.”