Published on Thursday, May 10, 2012

Discovery of airline bomb plot leaves more questions than answers



The United States has foiled a plot by al-Qaida's branch in Yemen to blow up a US-bound airliner near the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, officials said. But that was the only clear element of a tangled tale that left a lot of questions.


In the wake of the strange incident, security officials say they don't see any immediate need to change screening procedures at airports, despite the discovery of a new kind of "underwear bomb".


US officials say the plot using the new-style bomb was foiled when a mysterious insider infiltrated a terror cell. White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan refused to reveal how the bomb plot was broken up, said the BBC.


Unanswered questions (at this time) include


---Who was the would-be bomber?


---Is he or she in custody?


---Where was the alleged device seized?


---What was the exact make-up of the bomb itself, said to contain no metal parts and designed to escape detection at airport security?


---And would this improved version of an earlier detected bomb have gotten through security?


Without giving specifics, the US says multiple overseas intelligence agencies were involved in the operation to seize the device.


The device is being examined by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, while the source is said to have left Yemen.


The plot hatched by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was uncovered at an early stage and at no point was the public in danger, according to the White House and government agencies.


CBS News said the plot was thwarted by an undercover intelligence agent who could have been providing information for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) for a long time.


As details of the plot emerged in the US, officials said it appeared that AQAP leaders in Yemen had instructed a suicide bomber to board any flight of his choosing to the US with the bomb under his clothes.


However, he had been stopped before reaching an airport.


Reports say no target had been chosen and no plane tickets purchased by the time the alleged plot was derailed.


The alleged device seized shares some features with the bomb sewn into the underwear of would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab during that attempt, officials said.


The Nigerian was arrested when his device failed to explode fully while on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.


"The device was for use by a suicide bomber on an airliner," a US counterterrorism official told Agence France Presse.


The latest conspiracy confirmed AQAP as a mounting danger that has gained ground due to unrest in Yemen, officials said.


Some American officials called the affair a "success" for American intelligence but one other fallout is that the Department of Homeland Security admits it had nothing to do with it and was not even aware of it.


Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, released a statement saying that they had no specific threat about an active plot against the US.


By David Wilkening


 

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