(WASHINGTON) — U.S. and European officials say that even though an al Qaeda bomber was stopped before he could board a plane for the U.S., the threat is far from over — there are believed to be several other would-be bombers with similar non-metallic devices that could get through most airport security screening.
Federal officials confirmed Monday that the U.S., working with other intelligence agencies, recovered an explosive device that resembles other bombs manufactured by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They described it as a refinement of the so-called underwear bomb with which AQAP recruit Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to take down Northwest flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
This most recent plot was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, but the bomber was apprehended before he could purchase plane tickets or choose a U.S.-bound flight. As ABC News first reported last week, the plot led the U.S. to order scores of air marshals to Europe to protect U.S.-bound aircraft. Flights out of Gatwick Airport in England received 100 percent coverage, according to U.S. officials.
Authorities say no flights were ever actually in danger.
As ABC News detailed last week, al Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri, who designed Abdulmutallab’s underwear bomb, was again the mastermind of the plot, according to U.S. and other intelligence sources. The latest bomb, according to authorities, was an improved version of Abdulmutallab’s bomb, which failed to detonate properly.
The new bomb that was intercepted had what is being called “a highly refined detonation system” and is now being examined by FBI bomb technicians.
“The FBI currently has possession of the IED and is conducting technical and forensics analysis on it,” said the FBI in a statement. “Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to [bombs] that have been used previously by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks.”
White House officials said President Obama was briefed on the plot in April by his counter-terror advisor, John Brennan.
Just one week ago, Brennan denied there was any such plot. “There is not credible reporting right now that there is an active plot underway to coincide with the anniversary of the bin Laden takedown,” said Brennan then.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said, “While the President was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public, he directed the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take whatever steps necessary to guard against this type of attack.”
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