FBI experts are picking apart a sophisticated new al-Qaeda bomb to figure out whether it could have slipped past airport security and taken down a commercial airplane, U.S. officials said.
The unexploded bomb represents an intelligence prize, the result of a covert CIA operation in Yemen that thwarted a suicide mission around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, officials said.
The device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.
“You have this group from Yemen that is proving to be very adaptive, very dangerous and has tried to hit the U.S. multiple times,” said CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate.
It’s not clear who built the bomb, but because of its sophistication and its similarity to the Christmas Day bomb, authorities suspected it was the work of master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
Al-Asiri constructed the first underwear bomb and two others that al-Qaeda built into printer cartridges and shipped to the U.S. on cargo planes in 2010.
“This is a very clever guy, very good at making bombs,” said former CIA analyst Bruce Rydel. “He’s probably al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsulas, a number one threat to the United States directly.”
The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or purchased plane tickets when the CIA seized the bomb, officials said. It was not immediately clear what happened to the would-be bomber.
“This bomb maker is doing everything possible to create devices that evade existing and known security protocols,” said Zarate.
Long Island Rep. Peter King said the bomb’s sophisticated, metal-free construction could create fresh problems for the TSA.