The State Department has put a multimillion-dollar bounty on the heads of two Americans who the United States claims belong to an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, CNN has learned.
Posters and matchbooks in Somali and English emblazoned with the names and pictures of Omar Shafik Hammami and Jehad Serwan Mostafa tout rewards up to $5 million each for information leading to their arrest or conviction. Both men are on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List.FULL STORY
Editor's note: U.S. and international intelligence agencies have broken up an attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner, a U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN. Follow further developments here.
[Updated at 6:09 p.m. ET] A U.S. official told CNN the plot was disrupted "well before it was ever a threat to the United States.”
The official added that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was the group responsible for the plot.
"We believe AQAP produced the device, and we believe it was intended to be used by a suicide bomber on an aircraft," the official said. "The device and the plot are consistent with what we know about AQAP’s plans, intentions, and capabilities. They remain committed to striking targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Homeland, and Europe. And AQAP is probably feeling pressure to conduct a successful attack to, from their perspective, avenge the deaths of Bin Laden and (Anwar al-Awlaki).”
The official added, as others have, that the device has the hallmarks of their previous bombs including the failed assassination attempt on Saudi security official Mohammed Bin Nayif as well as the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing.
"While similar, a preliminary review of this device shows that it has some significant differences from the device used in the Christmas day attack," the U.S. official said. "It is clear that AQAP is revamping its bomb techniques to try to avoid the causes of the failure of the 2009 device."
The official said the FBI was thoroughly examining the device.
The U.S. official added it believed that the threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is due in part to territorial gains they were able to make during Yemen's political standoff in early 2011.
"Those territorial gains have allowed the group to establish additional training camps," the official said.
[Updated at 5:58 p.m. ET] Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed the plot during a press conference on an unrelated issue.
"What this incident makes clear is that this country has to continue to remain vigilant against those that would seek to attack this country," Panetta said. "We will do everything necessary to keep America safe"
[Updated at 5:36 p.m. ET] CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank says one of the key things officials will be looking at is the exact make-up of the device and how it may be similar or different to the device used in the attempted bombing of an airliner in 2009.
Cruickshank said the suspect in the 2009 attempt, dubbed the "underwear bomber" wore the device for a long time as he traveled throughout Africa and it may have become desensitized. Tests on this device may allow officials to learn more about what changes al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may have been made following the failed bombing.
[Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET] 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 U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security statement added that the incident showed that enemies still have a high interest in targeting air transportation, which underscores the continued need for increased security at airports.
The statement reads:
“We have no specific, credible information regarding an active terrorist plot against the U.S. at this time, although we continue to monitor efforts by al-Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out terrorist attacks, both in the Homeland and abroad. Since this IED demonstrates our adversaries’ interest in targeting the aviation sector, DHS continues, at the direction of the President, to employ a risk-based, layered approach to ensure the security of the traveling public.
"These layers include threat and vulnerability analysis, prescreening and screening of passengers, using the best available technology, random searches at airports, federal air marshal coverage and additional security measures both seen and unseen. DHS will continue to work with our federal, state, local, international and private sector partners to identify potential threats and take appropriate protective measures. As always, we encourage law enforcement and security officials, as well as the general public, to maintain vigilance and report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities.”
[Updated at 5:16 p.m. ET] The FBI released a statement Monday afternoon saying that the device was seized abroad.
It reads in full:
"As a result of close cooperation with our security and intelligence partners overseas, an improvised explosive device (IED) designed to carry out a terrorist attack has been seized abroad. The FBI currently has possession of the IED and is conducting technical and forensics analysis on it. Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations. The device never presented a threat to public safety, and the U.S. government is working closely with international partners to address associated concerns with the device. We refer you to the Department of Homeland Security, including the Transportation Security Administration, regarding ongoing security measures to safeguard the American people and the traveling public."
[Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET] CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellen reports that a counterterrorism official said they do not believe the attack was planned to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Officials said they believed the device never posed a threat to the public and heralded the thwarted plot and recovered device as a sign that American intelligence capabilities have improved.
The Taliban could make a comeback and take over Afghanistan again, the country's President Hamid Karzai warned Monday at an international conference on Afghanistan's future.
"If we lose this fight, we are threatened with a return to a situation like that before September 11, 2001," Karzai said.
There has been progress in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in the wake of the hijacked plane attacks on the United States, he said.
But, he warned, "Our shared goal of a stable, self-reliant Afghanistan is far from being achieved."
Karzai chaired the meeting in Bonn, Germany, aimed at discussing the state of affairs in Afghanistan and pushing for international contributions and support.
Editor's note: The FBI and the DEA have disrupted a plot involving Iran to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and commit other attacks, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Two men - one arrested, the other at large - have been charged in connection with the plot, which the Justice Department says was directed by elements of the Iranian government.
The Justice Department says one of the men – Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen holding an Iranian passport – arranged to hire for the assassination someone in Mexico who he thought was an associate of a drug trafficking cartel. The person in Mexico actually was a DEA confidential source who was posing as a cartel associate, the Justice Department says.
Follow below for the latest developments and read the Justice Department complaint (PDF).
[Updated at 8:09 p.m. ET] In their investigation into an alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, federal agents interrogated suspect Manssor Arbabsiar for 12 days, a senior counterterrorism official said Tuesday.
Cooperation from Mexican officials played a key role in the investigation, the official said. U.S. authorities arranged with Mexican officials for Arbabsiar to be denied entry into Mexico, the official said.
From there, he was placed on an airplane to New York, where he was taken into custody and quietly taken to a U.S. government facility, the counterterrorism official said. U.S. authorities interviewed him there every day and compiled dozens of intelligence reports.
[Updated at 8:04 p.m. ET] Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss released a statement Tuesday, congratulating the FBI, DEA and other federal agencies involved in the case.
"While I believe our justice system will deal appropriately with the defendant in custody, our government must also deal with the Iranian regime," Chambliss said. "In addition to allegedly sponsoring this plot, Iran has supported and provided weapons for attacks on our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has continued far too long with no repercussions."
[Updated at 7:41 p.m. ET] Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee responded to U.S. accusations that the Iranian government was involved in a murder-for-hire plot Tuesday night, telling CNN's Erin Burnett that the whole thing was "a lie."
“The whole issue is a provocation against Iran," Khazaee said. "We strongly reject this accusation," he said, suggesting that the narrative was a "blatant" ploy by Washington to terrorize the American public.
[Updated at 7:41 p.m. ET] Tom Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission said the alleged plot "surprises me." Speaking to CNN's Erin Burnett, Kean said the plot is "pretty close to an act of war. You don’t go in somebody’s capital to blow somebody up.”
[Updated at 7:07 p.m. ET] New York Rep. Peter King, speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett, said the alleged Iranian plot should be taken seriously by U.S. officials. “This would have been an act of war [if carried out]. It has raised this relationship, between the United States and Iran, to a very precipitous level,” King said.
“This violates all international norms, it violates all international laws. ... We can’t allow this to go without a strong reaction," King, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee," told CNN.
After saying he would back whatever action the administration might take, King said “we should at least consider a sign of military action. ... something to indicate how seriously we're taking this." He added that U.S. officials should even consider removing Iranian diplomats from the country. “I think everything should be kept on the table.”
[Updated at 6:52 p.m. ET] A spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the alleged plot was "a child's story" and "a fabrication."
The Iranian government was awaiting details about the accusations, spokesman Ali Akbar Javanfekr said. He suggested U.S. authorities were attempting to distract American citizens.
"They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they're facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country," he said.
[Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET] Mexican immigration officials blocked Manssor Arbabsiar, now accused of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, from entering Mexico last month, Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement released Tuesday.
Mexican immigration authorities blocked his entry because of an arrest warrant issued by the United States, the foreign ministry said. U.S. authorities later arrested him in New York, it said.
[Updated at 5:57 p.m. ET] U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in recent weeks went to Saudi Arabia to brief Saudi King Abdullah on the terror plot, a senior administration official familiar with the terror plot said, according to CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
The Saudis were “outraged" not only because of the plot, but because the ambassador is "someone who is close to the king,” the official said.
The Obama administration has specific information tying senior officials in Iran's Quds Force – a special unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – the official said. One question, according to the official, is whether the Quds officials were freelancing or got approval from senior officials in the Iranian regime.
The administration intends to “go to other countries and say this is a serious escalation of Iran’s use of political violence,” the official said. “Some may build on their sanctions; some could cut off relations with the IRGC.”
[Updated at 5:37 p.m. ET] Mexico's foreign ministry, explaining why Arbabsiar was denied entry into Mexico on September 28, says Mexican immigration officials blocked him because of an arrest warrant issued by the United States.
U.S. authorities arrested Arbabsiar a day later in New York, where he had flown after being denied entry into Mexico, the U.S. Justice Department has said. The Justice Department says Arbabsiar had intended to go to Mexico to guarantee final payment for an assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Arbabsiar had arranged to hire someone for the assassination that he thought was a drug cartel associate, but actually was a DEA confidential source, the Justice Department says.
"In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States," the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement released Tuesday. "This operation confirmed that adequate mechanisms and procedures are in place to anticipate and prevent the presence in Mexico of individuals that pose a risk to national security and interests."
[Updated at 5:03 p.m. ET] U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the United States "will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended."
She also said the United States would consult with nations about possibly taking measures to "further isolate (Iran) from the international community."
The United States is putting the final touches on a security assistance
package totaling as much as $2 billion to help Pakistan fight extremists on its border with Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials and diplomatic sources tell CNN.
Read the full story on CNN.com.
The clock is ticking as the United States seeks a way to keep Middle East peace talks from falling apart over this weekend's end to an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction.
The issue of settlement construction is highly controversial, and the Palestinians have said a restart by the Israelis would be reason enough to end talks.
Read more on CNN.com.
Beneath the insults that Gen. Stanley McChrystal hurled at practically everyone on President Obama's national security team lies an inherent tension in the counterinsurgency strategy he was trying to implement. McChrystal resigned today in the fallout of his comments.
COIN, the military term expressing the integration of civilian and military activities, follows the basic tenant that combat operations, no matter how crushing, won't be enough to defeat an insurgency. Even the military's counterinsurgency manual is entitled "Unity of Effort."
"Each depends on the other," the manual states. If one fails, the mission fails." FULL POST
The State Department intends to designate the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) as a "foreign terrorist organization" after the suspect charged in the failed Times Square bombing admitted to being trained by the group, two senior officials tell CNN.
Both officials called the decision to designate the group inevitable after Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old Pakistani-American suspect in the failed Times Square bombing case, entered pleas of guilty Monday in federal court to all 10 counts he was facing after the botched attempt to ignite a vehicle bomb in Times Square on May 1.
There is still some process before the group is added. Both officials stressed that the State Department still needs to do its due diligence in following the strict legal guidelines involved in officially adding a group to the blacklist, but that the intent to designate the group as a foreign terrorist organization is there. The designation would freeze any of the group's assets in the United States and impose financial and travel restrictions on its members.
Officials at Foggy Bottom and diplomats at U.S. embassies around the world are biting their nails as they await an investigation into claims by an Army intelligence analyst that he downloaded 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables and gave them to the whistleblower site Wikileaks.
The alleged leaker, 22 year-old Bradley Manning, told former hacker Adrian Lamo during an online chat that he had access to the cables, which he said exposed "almost-criminal political back dealings," according to Wired magazine's web site.
"Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public, he reportedly told Lamo, who then turned Manning into authorities. He is currently under arrest in Kuwait.
The documents, which date back several years, were on a secure military network on which the State Department shares documents with officials in other parts of government - like the Department of Defense, who need analysis of U.S. foreign policy and national security issues.
The e-mails weren't addressed to Manning, but he had access to a network for documents that are broadly available and not the most sensitive U.S. intelligence. The network has cables that date back several years and contained information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts thought the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan.