MSA Intel


As MSA Intel reported last night, authorities have thwarted a plot to detonate a bomb aboard US-bound aircraft around the May 1st, one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.  The latest plot stems from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda's most active operational arm.  As the group behind the 2009 Christmas Day Bomb Plot and the 2010 Cargo Bomb Plot, AQAP has shown its ability to adapt to Western security inspection methods.  The device built for the thwarted plot is described as an upgrade to the underwear bomb which failed to detonate in December 2009.  The latest version of the device would likely have passed through airport metal detection according to officials, as it purposely contained no metal.  Authorities are still trying to prove whether the bomb would have been detected by airport body scanners.  Additionally, there is no further information on the operational details of the plot such as the intended date and target of the attack. 

Key Points

  • Officials are reinforcing how the US was never in danger of an imminent terrorist attack because they recovered the device before it reached the operational phase of the attack.
  • MSA’s subject matter experts (SMEs) theorize that the device might have contained undetectable chemicals reacting together to cause a possible violent reaction with possible primary explosives, causing a non-conventional initiation of explosive.
  • Last week, MSA Intel offered perspective on the resurfacing of Ibrahim al-Asiri, AQAP’s lead bomb-maker in Yemen.  He most likely built the bombs used in the 2009 and 2010 AQAP plots targeting the US and utilizes a creative design style to bypass airport security protocols.  MSA’s report highlighted that al-Asiri continues to construct bombs.  This coincides with open source information that al-Asiri is likely the architect of the upgraded, sophisticated device.


The persistence and evolution of AQAP’s bomb-making techniques is evident within this plot.  The group continues to design explosive devices with the intention of defeating conventional screening methods.  With the current device, the threat to aviation is even more significant than to corporate structures because only a small amount of the explosive is required to rupture the plane’s fuselage.  Additionally, AQAP incorporates lessons learned from previous successes and failures to show a real advancement with bomb design.  To effectively counter these threats, it is important for security programs to have a layered approach which incorporates a combination of security technologies and detection strategies.  This includes x-ray screening equipment, security cameras, hostile surveillance detection, and explosive detection canines.  Continuous intelligence analysis and threat awareness offers an additional protective layer and countermeasure to the security program.

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