WASHINGTON, May 8, 2012 — A recent attempt by Yemeni-based terrorists to plant an explosive device on an airliner bound for the United States shows the nation needs to remain vigilant against new acts of terrorism, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said.
In a plot whose details may never be fully known, U.S. and Yemeni operatives last month disrupted the plans of a bomber affiliated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, to detonate a plastic explosive device aboard a commercial aircraft.
“What this incident makes clear is that this country has to continue to remain vigilant against those who would seek to attack this country,” Panetta said during a news conference yesterday. “And we will do everything necessary to keep America safe.”
On Air Force One today, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama, who was briefed on the operation in early April, is pleased with the success of intelligence and counterterrorism officials in foiling the attempt by al-Qaida to use the explosive device.
“It is indicative of the kind of work that our intelligence and counterterrorism services are performing regularly to counter the threat posed by al-Qaida in general, and AQAP in particular,” Carney said. “At no time were Americans in danger as a result of this.”
During an interview this morning on NBC’s “Today,” John Brennan, chief White House counterterrorism advisor, said international cooperation was key to the operation’s success.
“It took very close cooperation with our international partners,” Brennan said. “This is something that we have really emphasized over the past many years — working very closely with our Yemeni partners — because al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula poses a serious threat to us.”
Having the intelligence and being able to take action before any IEDs can reach an airplane or an airport, he added, is instrumental in disrupting such attacks.
According to news reports, the IED was plastic, similar to the one Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to use on Christmas Day 2009 on Northwest Airlines flight 253, en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. AQAP claimed credit for that attempted attack.
“AQAP’s bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, has demonstrated real proficiency as far as concealment methods as well as the materials that are used in these IEDs,” Brennan said.
The FBI is examining the IED to see what kind of modifications or refinements may have been made, he added.
The United States also adapts its countermeasures, Brennan said.
“Whatever we learn from this IED, we’re going to ensure that it’s going to be incorporated into the measures that we take at airports, as well as any other avenues of approach that the would-be terrorists would take,” the president’s counterterrorism advisor said.
Brennan said no one has to worry about the IED or the would-be bomber.
“This is still in a sensitive stage,” he added. “We’re working very closely with those partners. We want to protect sources and methods, as well as operational equities. But neither the device nor the would-be bomber poses a threat.”
Now, Brennan added, “we’re taking additional measures in the event that there are other efforts out there on the part of al-Qaida to try to evade security.”
In New Delhi, today, on the last segment of her trip to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the thwarted terrorist attack is on the minds of U.S. and Indian officials.
Both governments “know the tragedies and losses that come with terrorism on our soil,” she told reporters.
“We have increased our cooperation between India and the United States,” she added, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can not only to prevent terrorists from carrying out their evil acts of violence, but also to try to convince people not to be recruited into terrorism, which is very much of a dead end, literally and figuratively, when it comes to pursuing any kind of political or ideological aims.”
The plot itself indicates that the terrorists will keep trying, she said.
“They keep trying to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people,” the secretary of state added. “And it’s a reminder as to why we have to remain vigilant at home and abroad in protecting our nation and in protecting friendly nations and peoples like India and others.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)