* New variation on an "underwear bomb" is seized
* Latest airline plot linked to al Qaeda in Yemen
* U.S. officials say no airliner actually endangered
(Recasts, add details)
By Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, May 7 The revelation that militants
sought to attack an airliner with an improved "underwear bomb"
in a plot foiled by U.S. and allied authorities shows their
determination to build bombs that can pass through airport
security, U.S. officials said.
The Obama administration said on Monday that authorities in
the Middle East recently seized an underwear bomb which they
believe al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate had intended to give to
a suicide bomber to blow up an airliner bound for the U.S. or
another Western country.
U.S. officials told Reuters the device was seized within the
last 10 days.
The plot was detected in its early stages, and no U.S.
airliner was ever at risk, officials said.
Yet the aborted plot shows that the Yemen-based group, al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), remains intent on
attacking the United States or its allies, and is continuing to
evolve its weapons and tactics.
One official said the latest underwear bomb to be
discovered appeared to be similar to the work of fugitive Saudi
militant Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who U.S. sources believe is a
bomb-maker working with AQAP.
U.S. officials said it had design features which were
somewhat more sophisticated than a bomb used in two attempted
attacks in 2009.
In the first incident, a man equipped with a bomb in his
underwear tried to attack Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a senior
Saudi Arabian counter-terrorism official. The bomber killed
himself in the attack but the prince survived.
On Christmas Day that year, a Nigerian-born militant who had
spent time in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to
detonate a bomb sewn into his underpants as his flight from the
Netherlands to Detroit began its descent in U.S. airspace. The
device burst into flames but its explosive charge did not
detonate. Abdulmutallab was subdued by fellow passengers and was
later jailed by U.S. authorities.
IMPROVED BOMB MODEL
One official said the device seized in the latest
investigation used what was supposed to be an improved or
redesigned mechanism intended to ensure that the explosive
"While similar, a preliminary review of this device shows
that it has some significant differences from the device used in
the Christmas Day attack. It is clear that AQAP is revamping its
bomb techniques to try to avoid the causes of the failure of the
2009 device," the official added.
Like the bombs used in the two previous attempted attacks,
the latest device was non-metallic, officials said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate
intelligence committee, said: "I congratulate the CIA for
thwarting this reported plot by AQAP to destroy a U.S.-bound
airliner using a specific type of bomb that is of new design and
very difficult to detect by magnetometer."
U.S. and European officials said that the newly-revealed
plot was part of continued efforts by AQAP to design devices
which could get through airport security.
A senior U.S. official said the group might be eager to
mount an attack following U.S. operations that killed al Qaeda
leader Osama bin Laden and AQAP's American-born chief Anwar
"AQAP is probably feeling pressure to conduct a successful
attack to, from their perspective, avenge the deaths of bin
Laden and Awlaki," a senior U.S. official said.
PLOT NO THREAT TO PUBLIC
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security
Council, said President Barack Obama had been informed of the
plot in April and had been regularly updated about it.
"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," Hayden said.
U.S. officials declined to say where the underpants bomb was
seized or by whom, but indicated it was either inside Yemen
itself or a nearby country. Several officials stressed that the
bomb never made it aboard an aircraft.
A senior U.S. official said: "We disrupted this plot well
before it was ever a threat to the United States."
"We believe AQAP produced the device, and we believe it was
intended to be used by a suicide bomber on an aircraft," the
official said, adding: AQAP remained "committed to striking
targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Homeland, and Europe."
The FBI said in cooperation with security and intelligence
partners overseas "an improvised explosive device (IED) designed
to carry out a terrorist attack has been seized abroad. The FBI
currently has possession of the IED and is conducting technical
and forensics analysis on it."
It said initial investigation showed the bomb was similar
to devices used by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in
attempted attacks on planes and in assassinations attempts.
U.S. officials said AQAP had also been working to design
explosive devices which could be implanted in would-be suicide
bombers and there were doctors willing to perform the necessary
They said implanted bombs were more likely that those built
into clothing to defeat airport security though the impact may
(Editing by David Storey)