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Saudi bomb maker for Al Qaeda may be among drone strike dead

News reports say one of the men slain in the attack in Yemen that killed two U.S. members of Al Qaeda was Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, whose bomb-making style has linked him to several plots.

October 01, 2011|By Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times
  • This photograph released by Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry a year ago is said to show Ibrahim Hassan Asiri. The Saudi bomb-maker for Al Qaeda may have been among those killed in a U.S. drone missile strike in Yemen last week.
This photograph released by Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry a year… (Saudi Arabia Ministry of…)

Reporting from Washington — In the wake of the U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed two Americans linked to Al Qaeda, U.S. intelligence officials were attempting to confirm reports that an inventive Saudi bomb maker for the terrorist organization also was among the dead.

News reports said one of at least two other men killed in the CIA-led operation Friday was Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, a fugitive whose signature bomb-making style has linked him to multiple attacks that were directed by the offshoot group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The American strike on a convoy in northern Yemen killed U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki as well as Samir Khan, an American citizen who published an online magazine that gave instructions on how to launch attacks inside the United States.

American intelligence officials said they were investigating reports of Asiri's death but had not confirmed that he had been killed.

Asiri is known for hiding bombs in imaginative ways to evade security procedures, such as by using the explosive powder pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN. 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 U.S. targets, including a Jewish center 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. Abdulmutallab was restrained by passengers and the airline crew after the bomb failed to detonate properly.

Asiri also concealed a bomb on his brother's body in 2009 in a failed attempt to assassinate the head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency, authorities say.

Asiri "was one of the linchpins driving the success" of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said Rick Nelson, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. "You can see how creative he's been. That makes him very, very lethal."

Meanwhile, a bulletin sent by federal authorities Saturday instructed law enforcement officials to watch for signs of a possible "lone wolf" attack in the U.S. in retaliation for the killings of Awlaki and Khan. There was no current intelligence about an imminent attack, the notice said.

But police were told to watch for suspicious behavior. In particular, the bulletin said that would-be attackers could follow plans found in Khan's English-language magazine, Inspire.

Seven issues of the magazine were distributed over the Internet in the last year. The publication encourages readers to launch attacks that don't require a large network of operatives.

For example, the magazine suggests that readers walk into a crowded Washington restaurant and open fire. Another idea is to attach knives to the front of a truck and drive into a crowd. One article was titled "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."

Times staff writer Ken Dilanian in Washington contributed to this report.

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