Al-Qaida bomb master: 'Brutality' and 'novelty'

Associated Press Published: May 8, 2012
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri has built a reputation as al-Qaida's bomb-making savant one potential near miss at time: Explosive-rigged underwear aboard a Christmas flight to the U.S. in 2009, printers fitted with high-grade explosives the next year and now possibly a metal-free device that could avoid airport detectors.

Before those failed attempts, he staged an even more audacious attack: Turning his own brother into a suicide bomber in a mission that injured Saudi Arabia's top counterterrorism official and was later decried by the U.S. State Department for its "brutality, novelty and sophistication."

"You tyrants ... your bastions and fortifications will not prevent us from reaching you," said an al-Qaida statement claiming responsibility for the August 2009 blast in Jiddah.

This appears to be the essence of al-Asiri's plots as one of the leaders of the Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. A pattern has emerged of explosive expertise channeled into designs using a smuggler-style stealth and innovation to try to outwit security forces and spy agencies.

U.S. authorities Tuesday probed the latest device believed to be the work of the Saudi-born al-Asiri or one of his students after it was uncovered in a CIA operation. It was described as a refinement of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009. The twist this time was an absence of metal, which could have made the device undetectable by conventional airport scanners.

"It was a threat from a standpoint of the design," said John Brennan, President Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser.

Al-Asiri, 30, arrived in Yemen in 2006 after being jailed by Saudi officials in crackdowns against Islamic militants.

"They put me in prison and I began to see the depths of (the Saudi) servitude to the Crusaders and their hatred for the true worshippers of God, from the way they interrogated me," he is quoted as saying in the September 2009 issue of Sada al-Malahem, or Voice of Battles, an Arabic-language online magazine put out by al-Qaida's branch in Yemen.

His younger brother, Abdullah, also made the trek to Yemen as they turned their backs on their father, a four-decade veteran of the Saudi military.

In Yemen's rugged northern mountains, they met with fugitive Yemeni militant Nasser al-Wahishi, a former aide to Osama bin Laden, and became the nucleus of the new al-Qaida affiliate, said the magazine account, which could not be independently confirmed.

They later brought in U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a powerful propaganda voice in the West. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike last September.

U.S. intelligence officials at first believed al-Asiri also was killed in the attack, but the suspicions were proven wrong several weeks later.

In August 2009, al-Asiri was linked to an elaborate scheme to strike at the heart of Saudi's intelligence services. His brother Abdullah posed as a disenchanted militant wishing to surrender to high-ranking officials in his homeland. A Saudi royal jet was dispatched. To avoid detection, the explosives where reported hidden in his rectum or held between his legs.

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