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Chief Al Qaeda bomb maker confirmed dead in US airstrike

Air raid on rocket and arms depots in Jabal Nqm east of Sana'a, Yemen. May 11, 2015. (Ibrahem Qasim/Wikimedia Commons)
August 21, 2018

U.S. officials have reported that a prominent Al Qaeda member has been killed in a 2017 air strike.

Ibrahim al-Asiri, who is said to be the chief bomb maker for Al Qaeda, was confirmed to be dead as a result of a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, the Associated Press reported Friday. A U.S. drone strike hit al-Asiri and several others as they stood beside a car.

Yemeni officials confirmed al-Asiri’s death, along with the two to four of his associates. A tribal leader with connections to Al Qaeda also confirmed the death. Both officials were not authorized to comment on the matter, and spoke anonymously to AP.

It’s unclear when, exactly, the drone strike occurred. A United Nations report released this week said that al-Asiri may have been killed in late 2017. The report also said that Al Qaeda’s global network “continues to show resilience,” citing the strength of its affiliates and allies.

He was considered one of the most-wanted militants by the U.S. He is said to have evaded several air strikes in the past.

Al-Asiri was said to be the individual who crafted the bomb used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the 2009 underwear bombing plot. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man, attempted to detonate the bomb while over Detroit aboard a passenger plane.

Al-Asiri is also said to have crafted the devices found hidden in printer cartridges on cargo planes in 2010. He was a powerful component of Al Qaeda’s strikes on western targets, and his loss is said to have dealt a blow to their striking capabilities. Al Qaeda is already strained over losing several top figures in air strikes over the past few years.

U.S. intelligence officials believed al-Asiri was developing bombs hidden in laptops and other mobile devices, leading the Transportation Security Administration to ban them on flights from Europe and the Middle East to the U.S. in 2014. Al-Asiri was believed to be improving his bomb designs until he found a way for his devices to evade airport security.

In 2009, Al-Asiri reportedly hid one of his explosives inside his younger brother’s clothes in an effort to assassinate Saudi Arabian interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef. The brother died in the explosion, and wounded a major U.S. counterterrorism ally.

The last known word from al-Asiri came in the form of an audio message in 2016, which contained a threat to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia following the death of 47 Al Qaeda suspects. It was considered one of the largest mass killings since 1980.

Al Qaeda militants in Yemen was considered one of the most dangerous branches of the terrorist group as a result to al-Asiri’s bomb-making capabilities. The U.S. posted an offer in 2014 of $5 million for any information leading to his arrest.