Amid the threats emanating from Yemen, the United States appears to be concerned about al-Qaeda using a new kind of liquid explosive in a terror attack against American targets.
ABC News reported that current technology employed by the Transportation Security Administration would not detect the explosive, citing senior US government officials who were briefed on the al-Qaeda threat that triggered the temporary shutdown of 19 American diplomatic posts across the Middle East and Africa this week.
The new bomb technology can reportedly turn clothing into an explosive device. It can work by simply dipping clothes into the liquid and waiting until they dry, Scott Kleinmann, a research fellow at the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence and a terrorism expert, told the The Times of Israel.
US officials believe the material was developed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP, gathered in small cells scattered across Yemen’s vast under-governed regions, has proven to be a tenacious enemy.
According to Israeli terror expert Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for National Security Studies, there is every reason to believe al-Qaeda would be seeking such a device in order to evade security restrictions.
“One of the characteristics of the organization is its continuous efforts to innovate new means of overcoming defenses against them,” Schweitzer told The Times of Israel. “I can promise you that professionals are doing everything in their power to cope with this threat.”
“The current safeguards, such as the liquids ban or the more traditional magnetometer and x-ray scans, cannot detect this new explosive to prevent someone from smuggling a bomb onto a passenger plane,” said Kleinmann.
“There should be little doubt that AQAP plans to use this new explosive,” according to Kleinmann. “AQAP’s master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri continues to improve the concealment of suicide bombs with creative designs, including bombs surgically implanted in humans, underwear bombs, and explosives hidden inside printer cartridges.
“AQAP has also shown their propensity to carry out bomb attacks. Almost every year since 2008, they have planned or carried out a major bomb attack against the US. In 2008, it was the US Embassy; in 2009 a US airliner; in 2010, a US cargo plane, in 2012, another underwear bomb, and now this most recent plot against embassies in 2013.”
AQAP has been widely considered al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate for several years. Even though the group lost Anwar al-Awlaki — one of its key inspirational leaders — to a US drone strike in 2011, AQAP leader Nasser al-Wahishi and the group’s master bomb maker, al-Asiri, remain on the loose and determined to target the US and other Western interests.
Both incidents involved al-Asiri’s expertise, and it is believed al-Asiri is behind the new liquid explosive.
In recent years, however, AQAP has been focused more on making gains at home, taking advantage of an unstable government and overstretched military that was forced to concentrate on protecting the political center in Sanaa. As a result, said a senior defense official, AQAP was able to expand its foothold in the south, capture more weapons and gain control of additional territory.
The State Department on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of the US Embassy in Yemen as a result of an al-Qaeda threat, in addition to others across the Middle East.
The department said in a travel warning that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency US government personnel from Yemen ”due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks” and said US citizens in Yemen should leave immediately because of an “extremely high” security threat level.
“US citizens currently in Yemen should depart. As staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to assist US citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services remains limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation,” the travel warning said.
The US Embassy is located in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Many analysts suggested that the extreme measure was a response to the deadly September 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when insurgents struck the US mission in two nighttime attacks.
The US also increased the number of air marshals on flights.
Earlier Tuesday, US drones targeted members of the international Sunni terror group in Yemen, reportedly killing four operatives.
The drone fired a missile at a car carrying the four men, setting it on fire and killing all of them, the officials said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the decision to evacuate the embassy, made earlier, was connected to the drone strike.
The Yemeni officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, said they believe one of the dead is Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaeda member. It’s the fourth drone attack in the past two weeks to hit a car believed to be carrying al-Qaeda members.