3 Jul 2014

Yemen's top bombmaker: the world's most dangerous man?

A nightmare for western security officials is when one “ungoverned space” links up with another, so that intercepting terror threats becomes a game of “whack a mole” – concentrate on Location A and Location B suddenly causes you problems instead.

This seems to be what is happening with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, which has reportedly tried to cooperate with Jabhat Al Nusra, another jihadist group in Syria.

More specifically, intelligence reports suggest that Ibrahim Hassan Al-Asiri, al-Qaeda’s top bombmaker in Yemen, is once again trying to blow up an American airliner, this time possibly using jihadists in Syria who hold European passports as bomb carriers.

The Syrian conflict has provided challenges the UK has not faced before. There are too many jihadists  going and coming back to keep tabs on. If any of them are students of Mr Al-Asiri, the terrorist threat could increase exponentially.



Mr Al-Asiri rarely makes the headlines these days, but for several years now he has laid claim to being the most world’s most dangerous man, if you live in Britain or the United States.

In 2009 a young Nigerian attempted to detonate one of Mr Al-Asiri’s bombs which had been sewn into his underwear. The Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was subdued by fellow passengers after his lap caught fire somewhere over Detroit.

In 2010, AQAP packed explosives into printer cartridges bound on cargo planes for Jewish addresses in Chicago. The devices were intercepted at airports in the UK and Dubai only after a tip off from the Saudis. Mr Al-Asiri’s devices have not reached their targets in the west but they have come perilously close.

In 2012, another suicide bomber from Yemen was stopped from boarding a plane. The bomb contained no metal parts and had an advanced detonator designed to evade detection. Perhaps there are more of these devices. American officials believe Al-Asiri has trained apprentices to replace him if he is ever caught or killed. If those apprentices include European nationals fighting in Syria then Asiri is a man who is refusing to let past setbacks deter him.

In 2009, his explosives were loaded into his brother’s Abdullah’s body in a suicide bombing which failed to kill the head of Saudi intelligence. The bomb was reportedly hidden in the bomber’s rectum – harder to detect, though causing damage over a smaller area because the body (and size of the cavity) dampens the blast.


Mr Al-Asiri is himself a Saudi citizen, believed to be in his early 30s. He was reportedly jailed in 2003 for trying to reach Iraq to pursue jihad there.  So perhaps it is not surprising if he is now trying to pass on his skills to jihadists on other fronts.

The UK terror threat level has not increased – which makes it clear there is no specific intelligence about a specific attack. Small comfort though, if  as it appears Al-Asiri is still trying to perfect a bomb which is undetectable.

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