U.S. media reports say a man sent by al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner was actually a double agent working for the United States, who infiltrated the terror network and volunteered to carry out the suicide attack.
Unidentified American and foreign intelligence officials provided details of the bomb plot. They told how the would-be bomber turned over his sophisticated explosive device to U.S. and Saudi officials, and also provided information that led to a successful air strike against an al-Qaida leader in Yemen.
The New York Times said the details emerging Tuesday night amounted to an extraordinary intelligence coup. The newspaper said the double agent managed to leave Yemen and traveled through the United Arab Emirates to meet with members of the CIA, Saudi intelligence and other spy agencies. The man’s identity has not been disclosed.
An FBI analysis of the device is under way.
The informant is said to have spent weeks working with and gaining the trust of members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The information he gathered allowed the CIA to order an air raid Sunday that killed al-Qaida member Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, who has been sought since the bombing of the USS Cole warship off Yemen in 2000.
Al-Quso had been charged in a U.S. court with the ship bombing, which killed 17 U.S. sailors, and the FBI had ordered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
U.S. officials have said al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen intended to put a suicide bomber on a U.S.-bound jet with explosives concealed in the person’s underwear. U.S. officials say the plot was detected in its earliest stages and that no U.S. airliner was ever at risk.
Authorities say the bomb was a redesign of an explosive underwear device intended to blow up a jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan on Dec. 25, 2009.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the incident is a reminder that America and its allies are still targets of terrorist plots.
William McCantis, a terrorism analyst with the Center for Naval Analysis said this latest operation underscores the importance of intelligence in war on terrorism.
“We had the bomb before it was detonated, so we’re getting better at disrupting these plots. On the other hand, it’s worrisome that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is able to build these sorts of bombs still, after a year or more of increasing drone strikes. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is definitely the greatest threat the United States faces from al-Qaida, because, one, it controls territory, and it’s able to move freely through a large swath of territories. So it’s able to gather resources, it has places it can train and it provides safe haven, perhaps it’s gotten control of some munitions when it overthrows various military groups, and every time they innovate, we have to innovate as well. There’s not gonna be a perfect security system in place to stop these plots, because our enemies will always innovate around them, so we have to keep changing.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is also suspected of forming a plot in 2010 to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes with explosives hidden in printer ink cartridges.