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Al-Qaeda Militant Said To Be Source Of Tip In Yemeni Mail-Bomb Plot

  • RFE/RL

One of two package bombs intercepted on October 29 was transported to the United Kingdom on a UPS cargo plane.

One of two package bombs intercepted on October 29 was transported to the United Kingdom on a UPS cargo plane.

A former Al-Qaeda fighter who recently surrendered to Saudi authorities allegedly provided the crucial tip used to intercept two explosive packages that were mailed from Yemen to the United States last week.

The BBC, citing unnamed British officials, first reported that the tipster is thought to be former militant Jabr al-Faifi, a Saudi who joined Al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch. The group suspected in the package bomb plot.

The Associated Press confirmed the report, citing unnamed Yemeni security officials and tribal leaders.

Faifi had been captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan following the 2001 toppling of the Taliban. He was held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay until early 2007, when he was released to Saudi Arabia.

There, he went through a rehabilitation program for militants but according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, he joined the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda after his release.

However, Faifi recently turned himself in to Saudi authorities and it was while he was in custody that he allegedly told officials about the package bomb plot.

The United States has acknowledged that intelligence information from Saudi Arabia led to the interception on October 29 of two explosive devices, hidden in packages addressed to U.S. synagogues, en route from Yemen.

Officials found one mail bomb on board a plane in England and the other in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

U.A.E. police said the package they identified contained PETN -- the same explosive that was used in recent terror attempts by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group which is suspected in the package-bomb plot.

British officials said the package they intercepted contained a printer toner cartridge with wires and powder.

Shipping Bans

Speaking on a U.S. television news program on October 31, the White House's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said the threat of more package bombs in the system had prompted tighter scrutiny of international cargo shipments.

"I think we have to presume there might be [more package bombs], and therefore we have to take these measures, but right now we do not have indications that there are others that are out there," he said. "In fact, [shipping companies] FedEx and UPS have stopped all the packages that are coming in to the United States that were being mailed from Yemen."
John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has also sent a team of experts to Yemen to help ensure that air cargo leaving the country for the United States will be safe once Washington lifts the temporary ban.

British Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking today in the British Parliament's House of Commons, said the U.K. was extending its suspension of unaccompanied air cargo to the country from both Yemen and Somalia.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are known to be active in Somalia and security is considered questionable at Mogadishu's airport.

May added that while the package stopped in Britain might have been intended to explode on arrival at the U.S. synagogue, it also had the potential to bring down the plane that was carrying it:

"The device was viable. This means not only that it contained explosive material but that it could have detonated. Had the device detonated we assess it could have succeeded in bringing down the aircraft," she said.

A Qatar Airways spokesman told news agencies on October 31 that the bomb intercepted in Dubai had been carried by other passenger planes before being identified in the U.A.E. capital.

In Germany, the country's aviation authority announced today that it is banning passenger flights from Yemen. It is also extending the ban put in place over the weekend on cargo shipments from the country.

The bomb intercepted in the U.K. had earlier been routed through the German city of Cologne.

Yemen's 'Terrorist Cancer'

Speaking in Parliament, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "The fact that the device was being carried from Yemen to the U.A.E. to Germany to Britain en route to America shows the interest of the whole world in coming together to deal with this."

He also vowed to work with partners in the Middle East to "cut out the terrorist cancer that lurks in the Arabian Peninsula."

Amid the shipping bans and increased screening at airports, investigators continue their search for those responsible for the bomb plot.

Yemeni authorities arrested a female computer-engineering student on October 30 but later released her, saying someone who used her identity had signed the shipping documents for one of the package bombs.

U.S. intelligence officials have identified Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi believed to be in Yemen, as the key suspect in the package-bomb attempt.

Asiri has also been linked to the explosive used in the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt of a U.S.-bound plane.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that plot, and has since stepped up attacks on Yemeni and Western targets.

Christopher Boucek, an expert on Yemen and terrorism at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says widespread poverty and unemployment is encouraging the recruitment of terrorists in the Arabian Peninsula country. But he tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the country -- which is Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland -- cannot yet be considered a failed state.

"Yemen is not a failed state. It's not like Afghanistan or Somalia. There is an effective national government [although] it's not in control in control of as much of the territory [of the country] as we would like," he says. "There is a military and police and security services, so Yemen is not yet a failed state. [But] its authority will recede more and more in the future, and I think that's what the big danger is."

written with agency material and additional reporting by Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service