WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. counterterrorism officials are concerned about al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen because of increased intelligence chatter in the past several months. And in recent weeks, the group's top bomb maker — once thought to be dead — has resurfaced, The Associated Press has learned.
While the intelligence community sees no credible or specific threat related to the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, counterterrorism officials remain anxious about the Yemen group plotting attacks.
The group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has been a major threat since 2009, when one of its adherents tried to bring down a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas. In the past six months, counterterrorism officials have seen an uptick in intelligence about potential threats from the group, according to an intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. The terror group has twice tried to attack U.S.-bound flights and is considered the most dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, recruiting Westerners.
In particular, the man behind AQAP's ingenious bombs has reemerged on the U.S. radar after going underground since a drone strike in 2011 killed one of the Yemen group's top leaders, Anwar al-Awlaki. In the hours after the strike, U.S. intelligence officials believed bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was also killed with al-Awlaki. But two days later, Yemeni officials said the Saudi-born al-Asiri was not in the vehicle that was hit.
Intelligence officials say al-Asiri knows the U.S. is hunting him. So far, he's proved an elusive target.
Last year, the U.S. designated al-Asiri as a terrorist for his suspected involvement in terror attacks. In 2009, al-Asiri dispatched his brother on a suicide mission to kill Prince Muhammed bin Nayef, the Saudi deputy interior minister. Al-Asiri built the bomb that was hidden in his brother's pants. Bin Nayef survived the attack, but al-Asiri's brother blew up himself.
The FBI has a fingerprint and forensic evidence linking al-Asiri to one of the explosive devices used in recent attempted attacks on the United States. It's not clear who provided the FBI with the original fingerprint used to match the one lifted from the underwear bomb. But it probably came from Saudi Arabia, where al-Asiri and his brother were arrested for their involvement in an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist cell. They were released and later fled to Yemen in 2006.
Officials are worried that the terror group "intends to advance plots along multiple fronts, including renewed efforts to target Western aviation," according to a joint intelligence bulletin circulated Wednesday from U.S. Northern Command, the FBI and Homeland Security Department. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the bulletin.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. has "no credible information" that terrorist organizations are plotting attacks on the U.S. to coincide with the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death.
"However, we assess that AQ's affiliates and allies remain intent on conducting attacks on the homeland, possibly to avenge the death of bin Laden, but not necessarily tied to the anniversary," Carney said, referring to al-Qaida. President Barack Obama met with members of his national security staff Thursday to review the threat picture ahead of the anniversary, Carney said.
Bin Laden was killed last year in a May 2 raid by the U.S. military. The terror leader was living in a compound in one of Pakistan's suburbs, having evaded capture for nearly 10 years.
Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this story.