WASHINGTON - The would-be suicide bomber in a plot by al-Qaida's Yemeni affiliate was planted in the group by an allied intelligence agency or turned into an informant early in the conspiracy, US officials said on Tuesday.
The CIA and its foreign partners tracked the plot for several weeks and then managed to get the informant to deliver the bomb outside Yemen, possibly to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, sources said.
US intelligence officials wanted to keep a lid on details of how the plot was uncovered to make sure the informant and the family was safe. Sources said the informant was believed to be connected to a foreign intelligence agency allied with the CIA.
The New York Times reported the would-be suicide bomber was an intelligence agent for Saudi Arabia who volunteered for the mission to detonate the bomb aboard a US-bound airliner. The plot was publicly revealed on Monday.
US and allied intelligence agencies in the last 10 days seized an explosive device that was an improved version of the "underwear bomb" in a failed Christmas Day 2009 airline bombing attempt over Detroit, American officials said The plot to introduce the bomb aboard an aircraft was the work of Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, considered the group's most dangerous offshoot, US officials said.
The latest device appeared to be similar to the work of fugitive Saudi militant Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who US sources believe is a bomb-maker working with AQAP. The FBI was studying the device to help prevent any future bombing attempts.
"The FBI has possession of the device and is analyzing it, which is a considerable intelligence benefit," said Senator Susan Collins, senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.
The Transportation Security Administration "also will be able to examine the device to test whether or not it would have been detected, and make adjustments to improve the chances that similar devices would be detected," she said in an email.