NPR Story
3:24 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

U.S. Foils Terrorist Plot To Target Airplane

Originally published on Tue May 8, 2012 5:26 am

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

U.S. authorities say they have foiled a terrorist plot to target an airliner. A suicide bomber was planning to bring down a plane headed to the United States. The Associated Press first reported the story. Al-Qaida's affiliate group in Yemen is believed to be behind the plot, which national security officials say had not advanced far enough, that the suspect bought plane tickets or tried to board a plane.

NPR's Carrie Johnson has been reporting on this story. She joins me now. And, Carrie, what else have you found out?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The White House says President Obama found out about this attempted plot back in April from his counterterrorism advisers. He was told at the time there was no threat to the public, but he directed the nation's national security apparatus to remain vigilant.

And we know that the CIA, the FBI and other U.S. authorities cooperated very closely with international partners to try to get this bomb or this device into U.S. soil.

BLOCK: It's being described, Carrie, as a sophisticated new underwear bomb. The FBI has this bomb. What have they learned about it? What did they find out?

JOHNSON: The FBI says it's conducting forensic tests and other technical tests on this device. But so far, the FBI says it has the hallmarks of the same kind of bomb or a similar kind of bomb used by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Now, Melissa, that's the group that has been responsible for several thwarted plots against the U.S. in the past.

And the FBI is continuing to look at this bomb to see if they can get fingerprints, DNA of the bomb maker or anybody who might have touched it, and also for signs that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has made some advances in sort of the arms race in an effort to beat U.S. security.

BLOCK: And the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, specifically, Carrie, is the same group behind the Christmas Day bombing plot a few years ago.

JOHNSON: Yes, Melissa, that's exactly right. Authorities in the U.S. have traced the bomb used in that thwarted attack over the skies of Detroit back in 2009. And another set of bombs planted in 2010 by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in printer cartridges in cargo planes bound for the U.S. to the same group, to the same bomb maker, in fact.

BLOCK: And, Carrie, at the time of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death last week, there were assurances from the White House that there were no known al-Qaida plots against the United States. It seems now that that was not the case.

JOHNSON: Melissa, this is still unfolding. And the White House and the national security bureaucracy have not given us a clear answer. But we do know last week, the White House said there was no credible plot. And a few days later, the Department of Homeland Security says the same thing.

At the same time, authorities were saying they did think that al-Qaida was still trying to target the U.S. through airline attacks. And, clearly, that's what was going on behind the scenes.

BLOCK: And we talked about the bomb itself. What about the bomber? What's known about him?

JOHNSON: We don't know who is responsible for this device at this time. And authorities in the U.S. are not saying much, if anything, about the fate of the person who wanted to carry out this attack. We do know it was at a relatively early stage. And this person had not, for example, purchased airline tickets or even specified a target.

BLOCK: OK. So, as far as we can tell, no immediate threat to aircraft, at least that's what officials are telling you.

JOHNSON: The Department of Homeland Security is saying they are not undergoing or ordering a major overhaul to airline security at this time, but they are reminding passengers, if you see something, say something.

BLOCK: OK. Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reporting on what U.S. authorities say was a foiled al-Qaida plot to bomb an airliner.

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