A leading militant in Yemen who surrendered to Saudi Arabia last month provided the tipoff that stopped the mail-bomb plot, according to Yemeni security officials.
Al Qa'eda defector led Saudis to bombs
SANA'A // A leading al Qa'eda militant in Yemen who surrendered to Saudi Arabia last month provided the tip that led to the thwarting of the mail-bomb plot, Yemeni security officials said yesterday.
The officials said Jabir al Fayfi, a Saudi militant who had joined al Qa'eda in Yemen, told Saudi officials about the plan. Several tribal leaders with knowledge of the situation confirmed al Fayfi's role.
US officials have said an alert from Saudi Arabia led to the interception on Friday of two explosive devices, hidden in packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, on planes transiting in Britain and Dubai. Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group's affiliate in Yemen, is suspected of the attempted bombing.
The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan yesterday cited Saudi security officials saying that the kingdom gave US investigators the tracking numbers of the packages.
Saudi Arabia announced this month that Mr al Fayfi had handed himself in. Mr al Fayfi, who is in his mid-30s, had been captured by US forces in Afghanistan. He was held at Guantanamo Bay until early 2007, when he was released to Saudi Arabia.
There, he was put through the kingdom's rehabilitationprogramme for militants. But soon after his release from the programme, he fled to Yemen and joined al Qa'eda there, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. In September, he contacted Saudi authorities saying he wanted to turn himself in.
In Britain last night, the government extended its ban on air cargo movements to Somalia . On Saturday, it stopped freight originating from Yemen coming to the UK.
The home secretary, Theresa May, told parliament that the extension of the ban was based on "possible contact between al Qa'eda in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia, as well as concern about airport security in Mogadishu".
Mrs May also announced that passengers would henceforth be forbidden to bring printer cartridges on to planes at British airports and that no cargo containing the cartridges would be accepted unless being shipped by recognised suppliers with screening procedures acceptable to the government.
Also yesterday, the British prime minister David Cameron told MPs that the country had to take every possible step to "cut out the terrorist cancer" that exists in the Arabian Peninsula. "While we are rightly engaged in Afghanistan to deny the terrorists there, the threat from the Arabian Peninsula, and from Yemen in particular, has grown," he said.
Meanwhile, teams of US anti-terrorism and security experts are headed to Yemen to help search for suspects in the plot and to train cargo screeners at the Sana'a airport.
The White House's top counterterrorism official, deputy national security adviser John Brennan, told Yemen's president on Sunday that his country has the lead in responding to the terrorists, according to a top Yemeni official.
The brief phone conversation between Mr Brennan and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh came as Brennan led a team of national security and intelligence officials in a second day of meetings assessing the best options for striking back at the militants suspected of trying to mail the packages. Officials say the powerful bombs containing industrial-grade explosives and may have been aimed at bringing down the planes.
The Yemen-based al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula has been linked to the plot because of the use of the explosive PETN, which was used by the group in last Christmas Day's bombing attempt of a Detroit-bound airliner. US authorities also had intelligence that Yemeni al Qa'eda was planning this operation, according to a US official.
While the close calls with the package bombs expose another weakness in international security that could endanger the US, the incident also presents an opportunity for the White House to persuade Yemen to widen its war on terror by allowing the Americans a more active role.
* Associated Press
* With additional reporting by David Sapsted in London