THE CIA has disrupted an al-Qaeda plot to bring down a US-bound airline using a new underwear bomb around the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
Terrorists in Yemen reportedly planned to use a device similar to the one that failed to explode on a plane to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 but American officials said the new bomb was significantly more sophisticated.
Last night, FBI technicians were analysing the device and early indications suggested it may have been the work of Ibrahim al-Asiri, al-Qaeda's "master" bomb maker.
The Saudi is believed to have made the bomb worn by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his unsuccessful attempt to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas 2009.
This time the would-be suicide bomber had yet to select a target and there was no imminent threat of attack, the plot served as a reminder of al-Qaeda's ambitions to strike against US civilians.
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, confirmed the operation last night, saying the US must "continue to remain vigilant against those that would seek to attack this country."
The FBI said it had recovered the explosive itself but it was not clear whether the terrorist had been captured or killed.
Ibrahim al-Asiri is also thought to have been responsible for two bombs planted in print cartridges and put on US cargo planes in 2010. Both explosives were discovered and safely removed at East Midlands Airport in Leicestershire.
The latest bomb did not contain any metal elements and is likely to have passed unnoticed through a standard airport metal detector. However, it may been picked up by newer body scanners common at American airports.
"Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to improvised explosive devices that have been used previously by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in attempted terrorist attacks," the FBI said in a statement.
President Obama was first informed of the latest plot in April, raising questions as to why the US government had previously said there were no "specific or credible" terror threats linked to the May 2 anniversary of the al-Qaeda leader's death.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.