Brian Bennett, Washington
October 2, 2011
IN THE wake of the US drone strike in Yemen that killed two key American members of al-Qaeda, US intelligence officials are trying to confirm reports that an inventive Saudi bomb maker for the terrorist organisation was among the dead.
News reports said one of at least two other men killed in the CIA-led operation on Friday was Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, a fugitive whose signature bomb-making style has linked him to multiple attacks that were directed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The American strike on a convoy in northern Yemen killed US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as well as Samir Khan, an American citizen who published an online magazine that gave instructions on how to launch attacks inside the US.
US intelligence officials said they were investigating reports of Asiri's death but had not confirmed that he had been killed.
The strike came a week after the return to Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered in an assassination attempt and whose resignation after 33 years of autocratic rule has been demanded by a large protest movement in Yemen, the political opposition, regional powers and the US.
The timing of the airstrikes fuelled speculation that President Saleh, who has frequently portrayed himself as an essential bulwark against al-Qaeda, had handed over al-Awlaki in order to reduce US pressure on him to leave.
US officials said there was no connection between President Saleh's return and the airstrikes. They said US and Yemeni security forces had been hunting al-Awlaki for nearly two years, and that new information about his location surfaced about three weeks ago.
Although Yemen did not carry out the strike, Yemeni officials were quick to trumpet the results. A high-ranking Yemeni security official called The New York Times about 20 minutes after the attack.
Asiri is known for hiding bombs in imaginative ways to evade security procedures. FBI bomb analysts believe that Asiri designed and built bombs that were hidden in printer cartridges in October 2010 and shipped as cargo intended for US targets, including a Jewish centre in Chicago.
Asiri's fingerprint was found on the bomb hidden in the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who successfully smuggled a device through airport security in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2009 and boarded a flight bound for Detroit. He was restrained by passengers and the airline crew after the bomb failed to detonate properly.