The CIA has thwarted a plot by al Qaeda in Yemen to blow up a US-bound plane using an underwear bomb. The device is thought to be an upgrade of the failed 2009 underpants explosives intended to strike a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
“These terrorists keep trying … to devise more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people, and it’s a reminder as to why we have to remain vigilant at home and abroad in protecting our nation and in protecting friendly nations,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported CNN.
The Associated Press (AP) knew of the plot before the White House made the announcement on Tuesday but agreed to hold back on the story to avoid compromising the intelligence operation.
The identity and fate of the would-be bomber and the location of the US operation have not been revealed. So what do we know?
Plot foiled early on
The BBC reported that the plot appears to have been foiled “after the making of the bomb, but before the public was put at risk,” and that the bomber had apparently not chosen a target or bought airline tickets.
Airports remain a target for terrorists
The underwear bomb plot shows that militants are still determined “to build bombs that can pass through airport security,” reported Reuters – and that their tactics and techniques are evolving: “U.S. officials said [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] had also been working to design explosive devices which could be implanted in would-be suicide bombers and there were doctors willing to perform the necessary surgery.”
Link to Osama bin Laden death anniversary unclear
The AP reported that the plot was linked to the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, The Guardian said, this is the one detail of the story that US officials have yet to confirm.
When did White House know about the plot?
The Obama administration assured the public that they had no knowledge of specific threats linked to the anniversary of the death of bin Laden, pointed out Rachel Levy at Slate: “That suggests that preventing the attack either took some last-minute heroics or that the White House wasn’t being completely upfront with what it knew and when.” According to The Guardian, President Obama was informed of the plot in April.
Yemen poses a security headache for the US
“Coming just a day after an American airstrike in Yemen killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qa’ida leader, the plot appears to underline the seriousness of the threat posed by terrorists working in the country,” said The Independent.
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