|IBRAHIM HASSAN AL-ASIRI
The Al Qaeda leader recruited his brother as a suicide bomber in an attack on a Saudi prince, officials said.
Package devices show suspect’s level of skill
Al Qaeda leader tied to Detroit attempt, others
CAIRO — He is suspected of packing explosives into the underwear of a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas, and he sent his own brother on a suicide mission against a top Saudi official.
Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, considered a key figure in Al Qaeda’s most active franchise, is now the chief suspect behind the mail bombs sent from Yemen and bound for the United States, according to US intelligence officials.
Together with a US-born preacher, Yemeni militants, and former Saudi inmates of Guantanamo, al-Asiri makes up the leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Forensic analysis indicates that al-Asiri, who is living in Yemen, built all three devices and is believed to have a fair degree of skill and training, although all the operations have been unsuccessful.
British Home Secretary Theresa May said the bomb discovered on the plane that landed in England was powerful enough to bring down the aircraft. A US official and a British security consultant said the device, hidden in a printer cartridge, was sophisticated enough that it nearly slipped past British investigators even after they were tipped off.
Yemeni security officials said they are searching for al-Asiri, who is believed to be in Marib province.
His most effective operation was the attack on top Saudi counterterrorism official Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, in which he recruited his younger brother, Abdullah, to pose as a repentant militant.
The two abruptly left their Mecca home three years ago, said the father, a four-decade veteran of the Saudi military. Aside from a brief phone call to say they had left the country, he never heard from them again.
With the bomb hidden in a body cavity, Abdullah approached the prince and blew himself up. The prince was only wounded.
All three bombs contained a high explosive known as PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, which was also used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid when he tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic plane in 2001.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been distinguished by its tenacious ability to regroup after severe setbacks, having been nearly wiped out in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia just five years ago, only to emerge in the past year as “one of the most dangerous branches of Al Qaeda,’’ according to a US assessment.
The group was formed in January 2009 by a merger of the battered remnants of the Saudi and Yemeni branches under the leadership of al-Wahishi, a former aide to Osama bin Laden who staged a dramatic jail break from a Yemeni prison with 22 others in 2006.
His deputy, Saeed al-Shihri, is a Saudi who fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in Guantanamo Bay as inmate No. 372, before being released and going through Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation institutes for militants.