Ibarhim al-Asiri’s name is not as well known to the general public, but he is the terrorist most feared by the US because of his ability to create undetectable bombs.
He is dubbed as “diabolical”. He is one the up and coming terrorists originated in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Al-Asiri is a drop-out chemistry student from Saudi Arabia who was radicalized after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has proven to be one of the most effective bomb builders in the organization.
The danger lies in his abilities to create bombs that can elude detection, even the most advanced X-rays.
He first came into the picture in 2009 when a suicide bomber nearly killed Saudi Prince Muhammed Bin Nayef, with a bomb created by al-Asiri.
The attacker was his brother. Early reports suggested that the bomb had been implanted into the younger Al-Asiri’s rectum, but it was later revealed that it was actually sown to his underwear. The man was killed instantly when he detonated the bomb.
Bin Nayef escaped with minor injuries, but the fact that a terrorist was able to get so close to him and bypass Saudi security put the US on alert.
Four months later AQAP used a new version of the bomb in another attack, when a Nigerian operative came close to bringing down a commercial airliner over Detroit. Once again, the device was connected to al-Asiri.
In 2010, AQAP planted two bombs in two US cargo planes. The devices were placed in printer ink cartridges where the ink normally goes. A Saudi tipster, helped prevent the attack and the bombs were traced to the elusive al-Asiri.
The bomb maker moved to the top of the Obama administration’s kill or capture list and officials were left wondering who would get who first. They attributed the foiled attacks to “cheating fate”.
There were few things that worried US intelligence officials more than the belief that al-Asiri had been successful in creating a surgically implanted bomb inside the human body.
The official name for such a bomb is “surgically implanted improvised explosive device” (SIIED).
In 2011, the US learned that al-Asiri was working with AQAP connected doctors and was testing the bomb on animals and like his previous bombs, had no metal pieces to avoid detection.
A 15 to 20 page report circulated by US intelligence officials explained in precise detail how al-Asiri and his doctors developed the surgery.
According to a senior administration official, who declined to be identified, President Obama has received regular updates on the dangerous man and has had many discussions on how to kill or capture him.
The CIA could have come close to al-Asiri in the Spring of 2012, when Prince Bin Nayef planned to get back at his would-be-killer.
The Saudis working with British intelligence sent a mole to penetrate AQAP and get close to the terrorist. The agent was able to join the organization, but never met with al-Asiri. Instead he was given the order to board a plane with a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb.
The mole gave the bomb to his Saudi handler in Yemen who took it out of the country on a private plane.
A few days later the Associated Press (AP) reported that Western intelligence had foiled an AQAP plot by obtaining an explosive device. This put the terrorists on alert that someone had penetrated their organization.
Some US officials believe that the leak published by the AP might have killed the best chance at taking out al-Asiri, although it is unclear how that would have been executed.
But the US might be getting closer to taking out its biggest foe. Last year a drone attack killed Ahmed Said Saad, a Syrian doctor who had been working with al-Asiri on his evil experiments.
Officials say that Ibrahim al-Asiri has remain on the loose despite an intense man hunt.
[Image via Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior, 2010]