Bomb plot foiled by al-Qaeda turncoat, say British officials
This undated photo released by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Interior is said to show Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Photo: AP
SANAA: The crucial tip-off that led to the discovery of parcel bombs on two cargo planes came from a repentant al-Qaeda member, officials have said.
Yemen has announced a crackdown on all cargo shipments after the two US-bound parcel bombs were sent from the country, and an alleged Saudi bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, has emerged as a key suspect behind the package plot.
Al-Qaeda member Jaber al-Faifi handed himself in to authorities in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, British officials told the BBC.
Mr Faifi is described as a former prisoner at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After leaving Guantanamo he went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, then rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen before turning himself in.
Yemen's national committee for civil aviation security has decided ''to implement exceptional security measures on all cargo leaving Yemeni airports to ensure the safety of civil aviation'', the state news agency, Saba, reported yesterday.
The committee had also decided to tighten general security at all Yemeni airports, to counteract ''methods used by terror organisations'', Saba said.
Both bombs were transported in the hold of passenger flights, suggesting that the terrorists were targeting tourists and other travellers, rather than simply trying to bring down cargo planes, as had previously been thought.
A US official said Asiri, 28, an alleged al-Qaeda bombmaker, had emerged as a ''leading suspect'' in the parcel bomb plot uncovered last Thursday.
''Asiri's past activities and explosives experience make him a leading suspect,'' the official said on condition of anonymity.
The militant, thought to be hiding in Yemen, is wanted for a string of attacks linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of Osama bin Laden's network.
The official said: ''There are indications he may have had a role in past AQAP plots, including the attempted assassination of a Saudi official and last year's failed Christmas Day attack.''
US President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, also linked the alleged attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas Day and the package plot, both of which involved the explosive PETN.
Evidence suggested the same person built the intercepted parcel bombs and a device worn on the Detroit-bound aircraft by the alleged would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Mr Brennan told ABC News.
''The indications are right now, based on the forensics analysis, that it's an individual who has been responsible for putting these devices together, the same,'' he said. ''He's a very dangerous individual, clearly somebody who has a fair amount of training and experience.''
Qatar Airways said on Sunday that a package containing explosives was flown from Sanaa to Qatar's capital, Doha, and then on to Dubai on one of its aircraft. A source said on condition of anonymity that it was a passenger flight.
The bomb had an explosive hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile-phone SIM card attached, officials said.
The other parcel was found at East Midlands Airport in England and apparently travelled through Cologne. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it appeared to be designed to blow up an aircraft.
US officials have said the parcel bombs intercepted in Dubai and Britain were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.
Agence France-Presse;Telegraph, London