May 8th, 2012
03:16 PM ET

Bomb chief al-Asiri considered one of al Qaeda’s biggest threats

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.

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