Yemeni bombmaker may be key to understanding latest underwear bomb

The Takeaway

The FBI is picking apart a bomb it says was central to a foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up an airliner bound for the United States.

The bomb, believed to be designed to be hidden in the wearer’s underwear and a more sophisticated design that the failed underwear bomb that was used in an attempt to bring down a Northwest airlines flight to Detroit in December 2009. This version would have been triggered by chemicals alone, without metal parts, leaving law enforcement to determine whether existing airport safe-guards would have detected it.

The device was seized by the CIA in the Middle East, before it was ever earmarked for a specific flight, officials said. But, for all of that, the man believed to be behind this terrorist device, Ibrahim al Asiri, the bomb maker for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may be the bigger story.

Tom Finn, the Yemen-based correspondent for Reuters, said the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the instability in that country to gain power and prominence in the global terrorism fight. al Asiri is a major part of that.

“He’s suspected to be the chief bomb-maker,” Finn said. “He’s known for making explosives with PETN, which is a powerful plastic explosive. There’s been speculation about whether he’s alive or whether he’s been killed in a U.S. drone strike. But as of now, it points to this man.”

Finn said people in Yemen have heard in recent days that the U.S. is intending to intensify its use of unmanned aerial drones in Yemen to target fighters — like al Asiri.

“This group, for the first time, has staked out their own territory in the south. The fear is, with these enclaves, that they will have more breathing room, more elbow room to launch these sort of international attacks,” Finn said.

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