May 7th, 2012
06:09 PM ET

Official: Attempt to blow up plane thwarted

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).”

Terrorist's death signals U.S-Yemen cooperation

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.

Al Qaeda's biggest threat: al Asiri

[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.

FULL POST