Latest Bomb Plot Shows al-Qaida Affiliate Making ‘Inroads’

BY Larisa Epatko  May 8, 2012 at 4:48 PM EST


Yemeni army soldiers on base in the southern town of Loder, Yemen, where they have been fighting al-Qaida militants. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

Although the latest attempt to take down an aircraft using a bomb hidden in underwear failed, the plot still shows al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is making “big inroads” as the most active affiliate of the terrorist network, said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is building a command structure and securing operational space in Yemen, Leiter said. The group has several hundred members and is committed to attacking the government of Yemen and to actively recruiting foreigners, especially Americans, for attacks within the United States, he said.

A bomb recently seized by U.S. authorities in an unspecified country in the Middle East, purportedly designed by al-Qaida bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, appears to be a redesigned version of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate on an airplane headed to Detroit on Christmas 2009. The FBI is studying the device now.

This latest suicide bombing reportedly was planned for the anniversary of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 2.

Al-Asiri became a bomb-maker in Yemen after training in Afghanistan and serving with bin Laden, former FBI agent Ali Soufan said. Al-Asiri and his associates were members of al-Qaida before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and before it became a well-known name, which is what makes Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula different than other affiliates, Soufan said.

The destructive capabilities of the bomb will not be know until it’s studied, he added, but it’s a “good test and sign” that the intelligence community was able to stop the group before it could take action.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said on ABC News that neither the device nor the intended bomber posed a threat to the United States:

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We’ll have more from Leiter and Soufan on Tuesday’s NewsHour. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.