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Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is considered a key figure in al-Qaida’s most active franchise and is now the chief suspect behind the mail bombs sent from Yemen and bound for the United States, according to US intelligence officials on Monday.
Forensic analysis indicates that Asiri, who is living in Yemen, built all three devices and is believed to have a fair degree of skill and training, although all the operations have been unsuccessful. All three bombs contained a high explosive known as PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, which was also used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid when he tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001.
Asiri is suspected of packing explosives into the underwear of a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas and sent his own brother on a suicide mission against a top Saudi official. Together with a US-born preacher, Yemeni militants, and former Saudi inmates of Guantanamo, al-Asiri makes up the leadership of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemeni security officials said they are searching for al-Asiri, who is believed to be in Marib province.
His most effective operation was the attack on top Saudi counterterrorism official Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, in which he recruited his younger brother, Abdullah, to pose as a repentant militant. With the bomb hidden in a body cavity, Abdullah approached the prince and blew himself up. The prince was only wounded.
Al-Asiri and his brother abruptly left their Mecca home three years ago, said their father, a four-decade veteran of the Saudi military. Aside from a brief phone call to say they had left the country, he never heard from them again.
On Sunday, a Qatar Airways spokesman said that one of two powerful bombs mailed from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues traveled on passenger flights within the Middle East.
The airline spokesman said a package containing explosives hidden in a printer cartridge arrived in Qatar Airways’ hub in the capital Doha on a flights from Yemen — an Airbus A320 which can carry up to 144 passengers.
It was then shipped on a separate Qatar Airways plane to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where it was discovered by authorities late Thursday or early Friday. A second, similar package turned up in England on Friday.
The airline spokesman disclosed the information on condition of anonymity in line with the company’s standing policies on conversations with the media.
The Snooper Report.
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