WASHINGTON – U.S. counterterrorism officials are concerned about al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen because of increased intelligence chatter in the past several months. And in recent weeks, the group’s top bomb maker – once thought to be dead – has resurfaced, the Associated Press has learned.
While the intelligence community sees no credible or specific threat related to the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, counterterrorism officials remain anxious about the Yemen group plotting attacks.
The group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has been a major threat since 2009, when one of its adherents tried to bring down a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas. In the past six months, counterterrorism officials have seen an uptick in intelligence about potential threats from the group, according to an intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. The terror group has twice tried to attack U.S.-bound flights and is considered the most dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, recruiting Westerners.
In particular, the man behind AQAP’s ingenious bombs has re-emerged on the U.S. radar after going underground since a drone strike in 2011 killed one of the Yemen group’s top leaders, Anwar al-Awlaki. In the hours after the strike, U.S. intelligence officials believed bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was also killed with al-Awlaki. But two days later, Yemeni officials said the Saudi-born al-Asiri was not in the vehicle that was hit.
Last year, the U.S. designated al-Asiri as a terrorist for his suspected involvement in terror attacks. In 2009, al-Asiri dispatched his brother on a suicide mission to kill Prince Muhammed bin Nayef, the Saudi deputy interior minister. Al-Asiri built the bomb that was hidden in his brother’s pants. Bin Nayef survived the attack, but al-Asiri’s brother blew himself up.
The FBI has a fingerprint and forensic evidence linking al-Asiri to one of the explosive devices used in recent attempted attacks on the United States.
Officials are worried that the terror group “intends to advance plots along multiple fronts, including renewed efforts to target Western aviation,” according to a joint intelligence bulletin circulated Wednesday from U.S. Northern Command, the FBI and Homeland Security Department.