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Al-Qaida master bomb maker believed to be dead -- again

It's not the first time U.S. intelligence thought Ibrahim al Asiri was killed

Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri
Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri (Yemeni government via CNN)

WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence officials believe the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist responsible for creating the so-called underwear bomb and another explosive device that came close to downing a cargo jet en route from Europe to America -- was killed by a drone strike in Yemen late last year. However, it isn't the first time his death has been reported.
 
On Aug. 17, The Associated Press was the first to report a tribal leader had told Yemeni officials that bomb maker Ibrahim al Asiri was killed by a U.S. drone strike in eastern Yemen. The AP also reported that the United Nations believed Asari may have been killed in the second-half of 2017.
 
If this story of the death of bomb maker Ibrahim al Asiri sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard it before.
 
Asiri was reportedly killed in the fall of 2011 by a U.S. drone airstrike in the mountainous region of Yemen, seriously wounded in another drone strike in Yemen in 2013, and possibly killed in a firefight between terrorists and Yemeni forces in 2014. Any hope that Asari had been killed or seriously wounded was put to rest when al-Qaida released an audio recording of Asari making threats against the United States and Saudi Arabia in January 2016, after Saudi Arabia executed almost 50 militants.
 
Ibrahim al Asiri was considered by many in the intelligence community to be the most dangerous terrorist on the planet attributable mainly to his creativity with explosives. Four years ago, the TSA banned passengers from bringing laptops and uncharged cellphones into the cabins on flights to the U.S. from Europe and the Middle East. The ban was in reaction to intelligence pointing to the possibility Asari and his associates could create small but powerful bombs that could evade detection by airport security.
 
Asari’s resourcefulness has been previously demonstrated several times. Here are three examples of ingenious, but unsuccessful, deployment of his bombs:

Aug. 27, 2009: Al-Qaida suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan al Asiri was killed as he tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The mission failed when the bomb Asiri was carrying, a pound of PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), went off prematurely. The bomb apparently detonated when al-Asiri stumbled as he approached the prince. Prince Nayef was only slightly injured in the blast.

What makes this terrorist strike unique is how Asiri was able to get past the prince’s security team with the bomb. The bomber posed as a “repentant” militant who wanted to personally surrender to the prince in his office. To get the bomb past security, he had the explosives hidden in his anal cavity. Abdullah Hassan al Asiri was the brother of Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri.

Dec. 25, 2009: A lone terrorist attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner after he smuggled aboard a bomb that was sewn into his underwear. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian student, attempted to detonate a bomb about 20 minutes before Northwest Airlines Flight 253 (en route from Nigeria to Amsterdam to Detroit), touched down in Detroit. As Abdulmutallab ignited the device, the bomb made a popping sound and part of Abdulmutallab’s clothes as well as part of the jet’s interior wall caught fire. Jasper Schuringa, a passenger on the plane, subdued Abdulmutallab and the cabin crew extinguished the small blaze. 

The bomb itself was unique: one part containing powder was strapped to his leg, while a second part contained liquid in a syringe. When the two were mixed together, the bomb was supposed to explode. It didn’t, and instead caught fire. 

Authorities later discovered the “underwear bomb” contained 2.82 ounces of almost undetectable PETN sewn into a 6-inch packet in Abdulmutallab’s underwear and TATP (triacetone triperoxide), a liquid with about 85 percent the explosive power of TNT. TATP and PETN were the same two ingredients used for Richard Reid’s shoe-bomb, which he attempted to detonate on an American Airlines jet in late 2001. AQAP claimed responsibility for the attempt and authorities quickly surmised Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri designed the bomb.

Oct. 29, 2010: Two of Asari’s bombs were found aboard cargo planes sent from Yemen and bound for the United States. The bombs were discovered during stopovers after authorities received tips: the first was discovered in England aboard a UPS cargo jet after being transported by a passenger jet; the second in the UAE aboard a FedEx cargo jet at the airline’s Dubai depot that package had flown onboard two Qatar Airways passenger jets.

The explosive PETN was packed in printer ink cartridges for both bombs, with cellphone timers set to detonate while the aircraft were in the air. Authorities in England initially missed detecting their bomb, but on the insistence of the Americans looked for it a second time. After authorities in Dubai told the Americans they had found 10.58 ounces of PETN packed in a printer ink cartridge, the Brits found the U.K. bomb. The explosive (15.11 ounces of PETN) was packed in a Hewlett-Packard HP LaserJet P2055 printer cartridge

Both bombs were sent from Sana’a (in Yemen) to Chicago and Philadelphia and were addressed to people who had been dead for hundreds of years. One package bore the name of Diego Deza, who was part of the Spanish Inquisition and died in 1523. The other was addressed to Reynald Krak, also known as Reynald of Châtillon, a knight in the Second Crusade who died in 1187. Strangely enough, both packages were sent to outdated addresses of two synagogues.

Authorities were tipped off to the plot after Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of Saudi Arabia’s antiterrorism efforts, called U.S. authorities in Saudi Arabia and America.


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