The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit in on Dec. 25, 2009. This new bomb also was designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more refined detonation system, U.S. officials said.
The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said the device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.
There were no immediate plans to change security procedures at U.S. airports.
The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought a plane ticket when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It was not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Barack Obama learned about the plot in April and was assured the device posed no threat to the public.
“The president thanks all intelligence and counterterrorism professionals involved for their outstanding work and for serving with the extraordinary skill and commitment that their enormous responsibilities demand,” Hayden said.
The operation unfolded even as the White House and Department of Homeland Security assured the American public that they knew of no al-Qaida plots against the U.S. around the anniversary of bin Laden's death. The operation was carried out over the past few weeks, officials said.
“We have no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden's death,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on April 26.
On May 1, the Department of Homeland Security said, “We have no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death.”
The White House did not explain those statements Monday.
The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation still was under way. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security acknowledged the existence of the bomb late Monday, but there were no immediate plans to adjust security procedures at airports. Other officials, who were briefed on the operation, insisted on anonymity to discuss details of the plot, many of which the U.S. has not officially acknowledged.
“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,” the FBI said in a statement.
It was not clear who built the bomb, but, because of its sophistication and its similarity to the Detroit bomb, counterterrorism officials suspected it was the work of master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri or one of his protegees. Al-Asiri constructed the first underwear bomb and two other devices that al-Qaida built into printer cartridges and shipped to the U.S. on cargo planes in 2010.
Both those bombs used a powerful industrial explosive. Both almost succeeded.
The operation is an intelligence victory for the United States and a reminder of al-Qaida's ambitions, despite the death of bin Laden and other senior leaders. Because of instability in the Yemeni government, the terrorist group's branch there has gained territory and strength. It has set up terrorist camps and, in some areas, even operates as a de facto government.
But along with the gains there also have been losses. The group has suffered significant setbacks as the CIA and the U.S. military focused more on Yemen. On Sunday, Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaida leader, was hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle along with another operative in the southern Shabwa province of Yemen.
Al-Quso, 37, was on the FBI's most wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. He was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed and 39 injured.
Al-Quso was believed to have replaced Anwar al-Awlaki as the group's head of external operations. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year. (AP)
항공기 폭파시키려던 '속옷 테러범' 검거
국제 테러단체 알 카에다의 연계조직이 미 국행 민간항공기를 대상으로 속옷 폭탄테러를 감행하려다 미 중앙정보국(CIA)에 적발된 것으로 확인됐다.
AP통신, CNN방송 등에 따르면 알 카에다의 예멘 지부는 최근 오사마 빈 라덴의 사망 1년을 앞두고 미 항공기에 대한 보복테러 음모를 꾸몄으나 사전에 정보를 입수 한 CIA에 의해 무산됐다.
익명을 요구한 복수의 당국자들은 이번 음모가 지난 2009년 성탄절에 네덜란드 암스테르담발 디트로이트행 항공기에서 시도됐던 이른바 `성탄절 속옷 테러'를 모방 한 것으로, 더 정교한 폭발물이 발견됐다고 전했다.
예멘에 근거지를 둔 문제의 자살테러 미수범은 적발 당시 목표물을 정하거나 항 공권을 구입하지 않은 상태에서 CIA 요원들에 의해 체포됐으나 어떤 식으로 신병 처 리가 됐는지는 알려지지 않았다.
이와 관련, 미 연방수사국(FBI)은 테러범이 이 폭발물을 갖고 공항 검색대 통과를 시도했을 때 적발됐을지에 대한 조사를 벌이고 있다고 미 언론은 전했다.
당국자들은 폭발물에 금속 물질이 포함되지 않아 공항의 금속탐지기를 통과했을 가능성이 있으나 최근 도입된 새로운 전신검색대에서 적발됐을지는 확실하지 않다고 설명했다.
폭발물을 누가 제조했는지는 아직 확인되지 않았으나 성탄절 속옷테러 시도에 이용됐던 것과 비슷한 점으로 미뤄 알 카에다의 폭탄전문가 이브라힘 하산 알 나시리의 `작품'인 것으로 추정되고 있다.
이에 앞서 백악관과 국토안전부는 빈 라덴 사살 1주년을 맞아 구체적인 테러 징 후가 없다고 밝혔었다.
AP통신은 이번 항공기 테러미수 사건과 관련한 정보를 일찌감치 입수했으나 민감한 정보관련 절차가 진행되고 있는 점을 감안해 백악관 및 CIA의 보도 자제 요청 을 받아들였다고 주장했다.
미 당국은 오는 8일 이번 사건을 공식 발표할 예정이었으나 AP통신은 하루 앞서 익명의 관계자를 인용, 이를 보도했다.
이에 대해 백악관은 "버락 오바마 대통령은 지난달말 이번 테러미수에 대해 보 고를 받았으며, 일반 국민에 직접적인 위협이 되지 않았다는 사실도 알고 있었다"고 밝혔다.