WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday added a Saudi bombmaker who is a key suspect in the 2010 al Qaeda parcel bomb plot against the United States to its official terrorism blacklist.
Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is believed to work with the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and already tops Saudi Arabia’s terrorism list.
“Al-Asiri is an AQAP operative and serves as the terrorist organizations’ primary bomb maker,” the State Department said in announcing the designation, noting that al-Asiri has also been accused of recruiting his younger brother as a suicide bomber for a failed attack on Saudi counter-terrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in 2009.
“Although the assassination attempt failed, the brutality, novelty and sophistication of the plot is illustrative of the threat posed by al-Asiri,” the State Department said.
The U.S. order is aimed at stemming the flow of resources to al-Asiri by freezing all of his property which may be under U.S. jurisdiction and banning any U.S. citizen from engaging in transactions with him.
AQAP, which already appears on the U.S. terrorist organization list, has been blamed for the foiled plot last year that saw Dubai and Britain intercept two U.S.-bound parcel bombs sent from Yemen addressed to synagogues in Chicago.
The Obama administration has been increasingly focused on the al Qaeda wing, which authorities have said was also behind the failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb that a Nigerian man hid in his underwear.
White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan has called AQAP “the most active operational franchise” of al Qaeda outside its traditional Pakistani and Afghan base.
U.S. concern over al Qaeda in Yemen has been magnified by the country’s recent political turmoil, which has seen longtime U.S. counter-terrorism ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh face growing protests calling for his resignation.
With presidential guards loyal to Saleh clashing with army units backing opposition groups, western countries and neighbor Saudi Arabia are concerned that Saleh’s departure might leave a power vacuum in Yemen that could embolden al Qaeda operatives.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand