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Senior al-Qa'ida defector who blew the whistle on airlines bomb plots

An al-Qa'ida member and former detainee at Guantanamo Bay provided the key information which led to the discovery of the bombs which could have brought down airliners, according to Yemen authorities.

Saudi militant and Afghan war veteran Jabir al-Fayfi, who joined up with Islamist groups in Yemen after being freed from Guantanamo and returned to his homeland, is said to have been instrumental in foiling the attacks.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of Saudi intelligence, had been credited with issuing the first alert over the plot when he telephoned US President Barack Obama's chief terrorism adviser, John Brennan, an ex-CIA station chief in Riyadh, last Thursday.

Security officials say he acted after meetings with Fayfi, who had defected back to Saudi Arabia and warned that Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who had built up a reputation as a leading bombmaker, was involved in an impending operation.

According to Yemeni officials, the Saudis became convinced that up to 15 mail bombs had been manufactured by Asiri and his associates, which has led to repeated warnings by US officials that the search for suspect packages must continue.

The exact role of Fayfi in the affair remains unclear but his history does reveal a long association with Islamist insurgency.

He was captured by US forces in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

He spent the following six years at Guantanamo, before being returned to Saudi Arabia in an agreement between Washington and Riyadh.

He was then put through a rehabilitation programme for militants run by the kingdom. Soon after completing the course, however, he fled across the border into Yemen where he joined the group al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula -- one of a number of former Guantanamo Bay prisoner to do so.

Mystery

However, his true allegiance remains a mystery, with some Yemeni officials insisting that he had been sent as an agent by Saudis to gather intelligence on al-Qa'ida.

According to Saudi authorities he made contact two months ago to recant and expressed a desire to return home. A private jet was sent to the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, to retrieve him.

Soon afterwards, Saudi intelligence was able to send a steady stream of intelligence to the west about projected al-Qa'ida attacks. This included a warning to French authorities about a possible bombing in Paris, as well as information to Germany and the UK.

The devices contained 300g and 400g of the explosive PETN, respectively. One of the packages passed through Germany's Cologne airport and arrived at the UK's East Midlands airport, where police failed to find it for several hours.

hnews@herald.ie


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