Ibrahim al-Asiri: The Body Bomb Menace
Newsweek Magazine - The Daily Beast
May 14, 2012
By Daniel Klaidman & Christopher Dickey
After the explosion, as the air cleared in a Saudi villa, the grotesque remains of the suicide bomber littered the room. His mission on that night in August 2009 had been to murder Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of the country's counter-terror operations. The would-be assassin had claimed he was giving himself up. He had said he would try to persuade others to surrender as well—but only if he could meet the prince in person. The Saudis flew the "repentant" terrorist from near the border with Yemen to Riyadh. They searched him. He carried no weapon that anyone could see. And then, as he met with the prince, suddenly, like something out of a horror movie, the man exploded. Saudi television showed the bomber's arm blown through the tiles of the suspended ceiling. A bare foot stood alone on the floor. The torso was sheered away below the waist. Bits of flesh stained the white furniture.
Bin Nayef survived with only minor injuries. But a new age of terror—or attempted terror—had begun: that bomb was the first known prototype of a weapon all but undetectable by conventional security measures. Another version of it, a so-called underpants bomb, came close to exploding four months later on an American airliner bound for Detroit. And last week word leaked that a double agent—one run by bin Nayef—had successfully penetrated the same group of terrorists in Yemen, claiming that he, too, wanted to be a suicide bomber. The double agent had obtained the most recent, most sophisticated version of the device, turning it over to his Saudi handlers and their American friends from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Are we safe yet? Not hardly, says Don Borelli, who was until recently one of the FBI's top agents in counterterrorism and now works with the Soufan Group in New York City. "We got one of these things, but who knows how many more of them are out there?" The man thought to have been the bomb maker is Ibrahim al-Asiri, who sent his own brother to die in the attempt to kill bin Nayef. "How many underlings does he have?" asks Borelli. "How many apprentices are there to whom he's spread this knowledge so they can take up the work if he meets the business end of a drone strike?"
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