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Meet the Saudi chemist sparking fears of ‘invisible’ bombs on transatlantic flights

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Experts believe al-Qaida bomb-maker could be working with ISIS – and that jihadists with western passports might target planes

Concern about the prowess of al-Qaida’s bomb-maker in chief – and his willingness to work with Isis insurgents in Syria and Iraq – underlies the decision to increase security at British and other European airports.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi chemist who became a bomb-maker, has for years been high on America’s most-wanted list, because he is believed to be behind many audacious attempts to bring down transatlantic flights, using his skills as a chemist to devise increasingly imaginative ways to conceal explosives, with the best known being the “underwear” bomber.

The new element that led to the present scare is intelligence linking Asiri for the first time to two groups in Syria and Iraq, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

The worry is that Asiri’s skilfully disguised bombs might be carried on to transatlantic airlines by passport-holders from the US or Europe.

Asiri has survived several assassination attempts in Yemen, the latest a drone attack in April. He has been reported killed, only to resurface.

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The other reason for the heightened threat is the increasingly familiar warning from US, British and other European intelligence agencies who have been voicing concern for more than a year of the threat posed by the thousands of young jihadists from America and Europe who have joined the fight in Syria and now Iraq.

The heightened security in Europe is primarily for transatlantic flights and comes at a peak travel period for the US, the 4 July Independence Day holiday.

Politicians said the changes would be permanent, with David Cameron saying the safety of passengers “must come first”. The prime minister said he hoped the measures would not cause unnecessary delays, but stressed that no risks could be taken with passenger safety.

He told the BBC: “We take these decisions looking at the evidence in front of us and working with our partners.

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“This is something we’ve discussed with the Americans, and what we have done is put in place some extra precautions and extra checks.”

The government highlighted the importance of vigilance, but said the extra security measures – details of which have not been disclosed – were not expected to cause “significant disruption” to passengers. The official UK threat status remained unaltered at “substantial”, the third grade in the five-level rating.

Earlier on Thursday, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, warned of the dangers posed by a “medieval, violent, revolting ideology”.

He said that “I don’t think we should expect this to be a one-off temporary thing” that was part of what he described as “an evolving and constant review about whether the checks keep up with the nature of the threats we face”.

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The secretary of the US department of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, said on Wednesday that information about the aviation industry was being shared with “our foreign allies”, while US officials told Reuters the increased security at European airports was because al-Qaida operatives in Syria and Yemen had teamed up to develop bombs that could be smuggled on to planes.

Jonathan Wood, a global issues analyst at security consultants Control Risks, judged the present threat “plausible” given that the leader of al-Qaida in Yemen called for an attack on the US in a video in April.

Wood said he did not know of anyone who had been personally trained by Asiri going to Syria or Iraq, but it was not improbable that some of his experience had ended up in these countries, given the link between al-Qaida and Nusra.

Asiri, 32, was born in Riyadh, grew up near the Saudi border with Yemen, studied chemistry at university in Riyadh and fought in Iraq.

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There is no suggestion that Asiri is in Syria or Iraq training militants or that he has sent them any devices. It is thought to be more likely that people trained by him or devices he has designed have ended up in Syria or Iraq.

US intelligence officials, briefing reporters, warned of creatively designed, non-metallic explosive devices that could avoid detection. But they do not have a specific device or design in mind.

Asiri has proved inventive, even if so far largely unsuccessful. In the December 2009 attempt to detonate a bomb on a flight from Europe to Detroit, the explosive was hidden in the underpants of a Nigerian.

In a separate attempt, British bomb disposal experts found explosives hidden in printer cartridges in a courier package in 2010.

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Some of the designs attributed to him sound like the stuff of fantasy, such as having explosives surgically implanted. But he may already have tried this.

One of the most audacious, imaginative and ruthless attacks was a suicide attack in Saudi Arabia in 2009.

The attacker was his younger brother and the target the deputy Saudi interior minister, and his brother was killed. The bomb was either hidden in his rectum – or surgically implanted.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

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Pentagon gives senators classified briefing on UFOs reported by the Navy

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While it might sound like something out of "The X-Files," Navy pilots have been seeing UFOs, and U.S. Senators now want to know what's happening.

According to Politico, three more senators met with Pentagon officials for a classified briefing Wednesday about encounters pilots are having with unidentified aircraft. It seems the Pentagon is getting more and more requests by officials with high clearances to figure out what's happening.

The crafts are, at their most basic, nothing more than "unidentified aircraft," and while it isn't likely they're little green men, there are some senators who might have concerns about whether these UFOs are actually a foreign adversary.

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Wall Street Journal issues blistering editorial asking Trump what the point is of a second term

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In a blistering editorial, the Wall Street Journal is asking President Donald Trump what the point of a second term is since he hasn't done anything in his first term.

During his rally in Orlando Tuesday, Trump repeated the same tired lines and same tired policies from 2016. The "Promises Made, Promises Kept" slogan shown over the crowd, yet the supporters didn't understand the irony.

"The most striking fact of his speech was how backward looking it was," the editorial board said. "Every incumbent needs to remind voters of his record, Mr. Trump more than most because the media are so hostile."

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‘Crosses a line’: New York Times publisher unleashes on Trump for accusing paper of ‘treason’

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On Wednesday, New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote a blistering editorial in the Wall Street Journal, saying that President Donald Trump's latest attack on his paper "crosses a line."

First it was the "the failing New York Times." Then "fake news." Then "enemy of the people," wrote Sulzberger. "President Trump's escalating attacks on The New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He's gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues. Now the president has escalated his attacks even further, accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.

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