The White House has confirmed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recently thwarted a plot by Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane.
U.S. officials say the bomb that was seized in the interrupted plot was similar to the one worn by the so-called underwear bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in his failed December 25, 2009
attempt to bring down a passenger jet over Detroit.
In a written statement,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was in possession of the device, which it seized abroad. The statement said the FBI is running technical and forensic analysis on it.
"Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations," the statement said.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Barack Obama was told about the plot in April. She said he “was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public.”
A statement by the National Security Council said that Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, had since been briefed several times on the matter.
At a Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was asked about the plot and said, "What this incident makes clear is that this country has to remain vigilant against those who attempt to attack this country."
The AP says it learned of the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the intelligence operation was still under way.
Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the White House to wait for an official announcement on Tuesday.
U.S. officials said the bomb that was seized was also designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but had a new and refined detonation system.
The FBI is examining the device to see whether it could have passed through airport security. No immediate changes to U.S. airport security were announced on Monday.
U.S. officials said 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.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said they suspect the new device is the work of master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri or one of his protégés.
If true, it would be the third such bomb al-Asiri has constructed with a U.S. target in mind. He is known to have built the first “underwear bomb” and two other devices that Al-Qaeda concealed in printer cartridges and shipped to the United States on cargo planes in 2010.
The CIA operation was developing as the White House and Department of Homeland Security were giving assurances to Americans that as the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death approached, they were not aware of any terrorist plots against the United States.
On April 26, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “We have no credible information that terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden's death.”
And on May 1, the Department of Homeland Security said it had “no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press, "The New York Times," dpa, and CNN.