Since last week’s brief (No. 15 of 2012) on the potential bin Laden death anniversary threat, additional threat information has emerged. Although there continues to be no credible information about an impending attack, American officials are warning that al Qaeda may seek to use “body bombs” to conduct retaliatory attacks against the U.S. for the killing of bin Laden one year ago today. There is concern over targeting of U.S.-bound aircraft. Security at airports within the U.S., Europe and the Middle East has been stepped up as a result, with a focus on U.S. carriers. Additionally, federal air marshal teams have been sent overseas to provide security on flights headed to the U.S.
- For the past year U.S. and European officials have been warning that al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been designing bombs that can be placed inside of the body.
- AQAP remains one of the top threats to national security as the group has been behind some of the more prominent terror plots targeting the U.S. in recent years, including the 2009 Christmas Day Bomb Plot and the 2010 Cargo Bomb Plot.
- Ibrahim al-Asiri, the lead bomb-maker behind those devices, has been designing “body bombs” without metal parts to evade screening measures.
- In 2009, al-Asiri built a device which his brother inserted into his body for an attempted suicide mission targeting the Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. His brother, Abdullah, was the only casualty in the attempted attack as the device was prematurely detonated.
It is important to note how AQAP has shown its familiarity in Western security inspection methods and its vulnerabilities, particularly in the cargo and civilian airline industries. The devices utilized in past attempted attacks were purposely designed to defeat standard screening measures. Generally, information is released around the time of a significant anniversary regarding potential threats. The latest warning from federal officials appears to be precautionary as the threats are aspirational in nature.