A U.S. drone strike killed seven suspected al Qaeda militants Saturday in the Mareb province of Yemen, part of a continuing air campaign against the terror organization, security officials said.
The drone struck one of three vehicles carrying the suspected militants in the district of Huraib, the officials said. The other two vehicles fled the area unharmed and continued toward the southern Abyan province.
A heavy government presence was at the scene immediately after the attack and residents said thick smoke and flames could be seen from miles away.
Among the dead were three al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who called the attack a blow to the al Qaeda network in the country.
The strike occurred nearly a week after a senior operative of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed by a CIA drone strike and less than three weeks after a Yemeni-linked terror plot to bring down a U.S.-bound jetliner was foiled.
The recent seizure by U.S. and other intelligence agents of an explosive device designed to be secretly carried aboard an airliner by a suicide bomber has put one of al Qaeda's master bomb-makers back into an international spotlight.
U.S. officials haven’t said whether they believe Ibrahim al-Asiri – the chief bomb-maker for Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - built the device, which they say was recovered two weeks ago after a tip from Saudi Arabia.
But U.S. officials say the group is responsible, and that the device is an evolution of the bomb that was used in a failed attack on a Christmas Day 2009 flight to Detroit – a bomb that U.S. officials believe al-Asiri built.
It’s not clear how the most recent bomb differed from the so-called underwear bomber's apparatus in that 2009 incident. A U.S. official said that like the earlier device, it was “non-metallic” and therefore harder for airport security scanners to detect. But it’s “clear that AQAP is revamping its bomb techniques to try to avoid the cases of the failure of the 2009 device,” the official said.
Regardless of whether al-Asiri made the latest bomb, U.S. intelligence officials believe he’s one of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's most dangerous operatives. They believe the device comes from the group, and that al-Asiri has been involved in at least three of the group's international bomb plots: a failed 2009 attempt to kill Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef; the failed 2009 Christmas airplane bombing; and a foiled 2010 attempt to send printer bombs to the United States aboard cargo planes.
Investigators were studying an explosive device Tuesday that they say terrorists in Yemen crafted to slip past airport metal detectors and onto an airplane bound for the United States.
U.S. intelligence agents thwarted the plot two weeks ago after receiving a tip from Saudi Arabia, a source familiar with the operation said Tuesday. Authorities have said airline passengers were never in danger and that the would-be bomber no longer poses a threat.
Even so, the plot highlights the resolve of terrorists to attack the United States a year after the U.S. military killed Osama bin Laden in a stunning raid inside Pakistan.
It also shows the lengths they will go to achieve that goal, adapting new technologies to try to evade security, as well as the difficulties that U.S. authorities face in trying to guard against attack, said Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
"This seems to be a new level of sophistication by al Qaeda," King told CNN's "Starting Point."
The Obama administration is aware of a video of an American hostage urging the president to meet al Qaeda demands so he is not killed, a senior State Department official said Monday, but added that the United States "does not negotiate" for hostages.
Warren Weinstein, 70, makes the emotional to President Barack Obama in a video released on several Islamist websites Sunday.
"My life is in your hands, Mr. President," Weinstein says in the video. "If you accept the demands, I live. If you don't accept the demands, then I die."
Weinstein, a development consultant, was abducted in August from his home in the Pakistani city of Lahore. In December, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for his capture.
A 70-year-old U.S. citizen kidnapped in Pakistan last year has made an emotional plea to President Barack Obama to meet al Qaeda's demands in order to save his life, according to a video released on several Islamist websites Sunday.
"My life is in your hands, Mr. President," Warren Weinstein said in the video. "If you accept the demands, I live. If you don't accept the demands, then I die."
Weinstein, a development consultant, was abducted in August from his home in the city of Lahore. In December, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for his capture.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the terror network, listed eight demands that he said, if met, would result in Weinstein's release. The demands related to issues in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.
"It is important that you accept these demands and act quickly and don't delay," Weinstein said in the video posted Sunday. He made references to Obama's daughters and to his own children.
A senior operative of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing was killed by an airstrike in Yemen on Sunday, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said.
Fahd al Quso, 37, was killed in Shabwa province, according to the embassy.
In addition to being one of the most-wanted terrorists in Yemen, the FBI had offered a $5 million reward for any information leading to al Quso's capture.
Al Quso was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2003 on 50 counts of terrorism offenses for his role in the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
After the release of several Osama bin Laden documents, CNN took a look at the documents and asked readers to share their thoughts. CNN posted analysis on the Security Clearance blog, and we featured some of the comments:
Readers' fiery reaction to bin Laden letters
One of the more interesting conversations that emerged (among many, many topics) was about a remark that bin Laden made about Vice President Joe Biden.
Bin Laden said he wanted to kill President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus. But Vice President Joseph Biden should not be attacked, he instructed. "Biden is totally unprepared for that post." If Obama were killed and Biden took control of the White House, bin Laden wrote, it would "lead the U.S. into a crisis." If Petraeus were killed, he reasoned, it would alter the course of the war.
Bin Laden's letters reveal a terrorist losing control
Readers talked about Biden. Many said they sort of agreed with bin Laden's assessment, albeit reluctantly.
toadears: "Wow. Scary to think that even this nut job knew Biden wasn't a good choice."
Others didn't see things that way.
Bill Pranty: "Actually, Biden's foreign policy experience would have served him well. Especially compared to the Texas Cowboy (George W. Bush), who ceded the presidency to Dick Cheney."
Just a bit of humor for some. FULL POST
The United States published several documents online Thursday that it seized during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year.
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published the papers on its website.
They are among the more than 6,000 documents U.S. Navy SEALs seized during their raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Among the revelations from that larger batch of documents is that bin Laden worked until his death to organize another massive terrorist attack in the United States, even while steering affiliated groups away from using the terror network's name so they would not attract as many enemies.
The documents were found on the five computers, dozens of hard drives and more than 100 storage devices, such as thumb drives and discs, confiscated from the compound after bin Laden was killed.
[Update, 7:43 p.m. ET] U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, said in a U.S.-televised address that "the goal that I set to defeat al Qaeda and deny it the chance to rebuild is now within our reach."
By the end of 2014, Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country, he said.
"I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is required for our security, but we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly," Obama said.
Obama's remarks came during a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan. He arrived late Tuesday night.
During the visit, Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that outlines cooperation between their countries after the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces in 2014.
[Update, 4:07 p.m. ET] U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that outlines cooperation between their countries after the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces in 2014.
[Update, 3:17 p.m. ET] U.S. President Barack Obama made a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday, the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.
On his third trip to Afghanistan since taking office, Obama will meet with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and make a televised address from Afghanistan at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Tuesday's visit comes at a particularly delicate time in relations between the United States and Afghanistan. The countries have been negotiating a strategic agreement that would outline the basis for U.S.-Afghan cooperation after most U.S. and allied troops withdraw in 2014.
Obama and Karzai are expected to sign the agreement on Tuesday.
More than 130,000 troops from 50 countries serve in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force. The United States is the biggest contributor, providing around 90,000 troops, followed by the United Kingdom (9,500), Germany (4,800) and France (3,600).
All family members of Osama bin Laden who had been detained are leaving Pakistan for Saudi Arabia on Thursday night, said an attorney for some of the family members.
A judge had ordered earlier this month that the terrorist mastermind's three widows and two daughters be deported after serving their sentence for living illegally in Pakistan.
The relatives were in Pakistani custody since U.S. Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad and killed the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
Law enforcement authorities, including the FBI and the NYPD, are investigating the origins of an online posting that pictured a cityscape of New York with the words "Al Qaeda. Coming Soon Again in New York."
The graphic image surfaced Monday on a few jihadist websites, featuring the words in the English, and has prompted officials to investigate who posted it.
FBI spokesman J. Peter Donald said that while his agency was investigating, "there is no specific or credible threat to New York at this time."
Three widows of Osama bin Laden are expected to be charged Monday with living illegally in Pakistan, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The three women - identified by U.S. and Pakistani officials as Amal Ahmed Abdul Fateh, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar - have been in Pakistani custody since U.S. Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad and killed the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
Pakistani authorities have started legal proceedings against the widows, alleging forgery and illegal entrance into Pakistan. The charges are expected to be filed Monday, said a source familiar with the widows' case.
The source said the Yemeni government has expressed readiness to let Fateh, bin Laden's youngest widow, return home. Saudi Arabia, where the other two women are from, has been more resistant.
A state media outlet in Egypt said Wednesday that authorities have arrested a senior al Qaeda commander named Mohamed Ibrahim Mekawy, who also is thought to go by the name Saif al-Adel.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the man they arrested is the same Saif al-Adel who was indicted for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.
[Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET] A Nigerian man who pleaded guilty to trying to bring down a Christmas Day 2009 flight with an explosive device hidden in his underwear was sentenced to life in prison Thursday.
Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, 25, pleaded guilty in October to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, among other charges. Shortly before he was sentenced Thursday in a federal courtroom in Detroit, he argued a life sentence – for which prosecutors were arguing – would be "cruel and unusual punishment," as well as unconstitutional.
The judge rejected his argument.
U.S. officials say the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula helped plot the bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was heading from the Netherlands to Detroit. Authorities say AbdulMutallab, a passenger, tried to ignite an explosive device that was hidden in his underwear shortly before the plane landed, but passengers and flight crew members subdued him and extinguished flames after the device briefly set him on fire.
The plane was carrying 289 people.
"As this investigation and prosecution have shown, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a remorseless terrorist who believes it is his duty to kill Americans," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Justice Department news release after Thursday's sentencing. "For attempting to take the lives of 289 innocent people, he has been appropriately sentenced to serve every day of the rest of his life in prison.
"Today's sentence once again underscores the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence from them."
When pleading guilty in October, AbdulMutallab told the court that he aimed to avenge "the killing of innocent Muslims" and "U.S. tyranny and oppression of Muslims."
A New York man charged with posting online threats against creators of the television show "South Park" is expected to plead guilty Thursday in a Virginia federal court, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said.
Jesse Curtis Morton was the co-founder of Revolution Muslim, a radical group based in New York City that is supportive of al Qaeda's worldview.
The former Brooklyn resident, also known as Younus Abdullah Mohammad, was taken into U.S. custody in Morocco on October 28, according to court documents.Morton left the United States in summer of 2010 because he feared arrest after two associates from New Jersey were charged with terrorism offenses in June of that year, according to the official.
Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Tuesday for a string of attacks that killed almost 70 people and wounded more than 200.
The seemingly coordinated explosions Thursday struck during the height of morning rush hour, hitting a number of Baghdad's primarily mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. Nine car bombs, six roadside bombs and a mortar round all went off in a two-hour period, targeting residential, commercial and government districts in the Iraqi capital, police said.
"The series of special invasions launched, under the guidance of the Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq, to support the weak Sunnis in the prisons of the apostates and to retaliate for the captives who were executed," the group said on an al Qaeda website.
Iraq's leadership is dominated by Shiite Muslims, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The country's Sunni minority held power under former leader Saddam Hussein.
Clashes between government troops and suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen left at least 10 people dead Saturday, according to two senior security officials.
The dead included three soldiers and seven suspected militants, the officials said.
At least four government-armored vehicles were also destroyed in the violence, according to the officials.
The clashes took place in four different districts of Yemen's southern Abyan province in a sign that suspected militants have not been weakened by recent government raids.
Residents in Abyan said that troops conducted house-to-house searches and arrested two suspected militants.
Six al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives - including one high-value target - were captured by Yemeni security forces, the country's embassy in the United States said Tuesday.
Musaed Al-Barbari, an AQAP leader who authorities say attacked the Sanaa International Airport in 2009, was among those captured, the embassy said.
"The terrorism suspects have been carrying out surveillance, and planning missions aimed at targeting government and high ranking security officials," the embassy said. "Furthermore, the cell was planning on orchestrating attacks on foreign missions and critical state installations."
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has claimed responsibility for the capture in August of a 70-year-old American citizen in Pakistan, according to SITE, a website that monitors terrorist threats.
"Just as the Americans detain all whom they suspect of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban, even remotely, we detained this man who is neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan since the '70s," al-Zawahiri said, according to SITE.
The al Qaeda leader also listed demands that needed to be met before he would release Warren Weinstein. The demands included the ending of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. He also added that Muslim prisoners including Abu Musab al-Suri, the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, Sayyid Nosair, and the family of Osama bin Laden must also be released.
Police have arrested three suspects in the kidnapping of Weinstein, a development expert from the United States who was snatched August 13 in his home in Lahore, Pakistan, a police official said.
The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said she was not aware of any arrests.
Weinstein was abducted August 13 when gunmen, posing as neighbors offering food, pistol-whipped him and his driver and tied up his guards, U.S. Embassy and Pakistani officials said.
Weinstein works for J.E. Austin Associates Inc., a U.S. consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia, a Pakistani official said. He is a world-renowned development expert, with 25 years of experience, according to his company's website. The site says he was heading what the company described as the "Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development and Competitiveness."
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