Saudi emerges as key suspect, bomb went on 'passenger plane'
An alleged Saudi bombmaker has emerged as the main suspect behind the two parcel bombs sent from Yemen, a US official said, as a Gulf airline source said one of the parcels traveled on a passenger plane.
The US official described Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, an alleged Al-Qaeda bombmaker born in Saudi Arabia but based in Yemen, as a "leading suspect" in the parcel bomb plot.
"Al-Asiri's past activities and explosives' experience make him a leading suspect," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There are indications he may have had a role in past AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) plots, including the attempted assassination of a Saudi official and last year's failed Christmas Day attack."
Asiri, the 28-year-old son of a retired soldier, is considered the AQAP's chief bombmaker and is thought to be in regular contact with radical Yemeni-US cleric and key terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki.
Counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, meanwhile, said there was no intelligence indicating there were any additional parcel bombs from Yemen, although he refused to rule out the possibility.
He also said evidence suggested the same person built the intercepted parcel bombs and the device worn by the "underwear" bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who botched an attack on a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
Brennan also heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates in a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zahed al-Nayahan for the "skillful and timely action" to disrupt a parcel bomb plot, the White House said.
"Brennan conveyed the president's sincere appreciation to the UAE for the excellent cooperation between our countries on counterterrorism and other security matters," it said.
Qatar Airways said a package containing explosives was flown from Sanaa to Doha, then on to Dubai, on one of its aircraft, which the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said was a passenger plane.
In Yemen, a detained student was released on Sunday, her father said. A Yemeni official said she was freed on condition she present herself for further questioning if required.
Hanan al-Samawi, 22, was arrested on Saturday after being tracked down through a mobile number written on the explosives-filled packages, which were intercepted in Britain and Dubai the day before, security officials said.
Earlier, hundreds of students rallied at Sanaa University calling for the Samawi's release.
Meanwhile the Hood rights group said it had information that "all employees" from the Sanaa offices of FedEx and UPS -- the courier firms reportedly used for the parcels -- had also been held for questioning.
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said security services "received information that a girl has sent the parcels from the two cargo companies," apparently referring to UPS and FedEx.
Security forces closed the offices of the US firms on Saturday, while setting up barricades in most areas of the Yemeni capital, checking the identification of car passengers.
Yemeni officials have said they were examining 26 other seized packages.
Yemen is studying the security system on cargo to enforce stricter measures, Qatar's state news agency QNA quoted an official from the Yemeni civil aviation authority, Mohammed Abdulqader, as saying on Sunday.
Yemen has invested huge sums in the field of security equipment in airports and installed sophisticated systems to detect explosives and inspect passengers, baggage and freight, he said.
Britain also said Sunday that it will review how freight is screened.
Shortly after the discovery of the bombs, Britain banned all freight from Yemen from coming into the country, including in transit. On Saturday, France took similar measures suspending air freight from Yemen.
Stringent measures were imposed around the world as British Prime Minister David Cameron said the bomb found at an airport in central England was apparently designed to blow the plane out of the sky.
US officials have said the two intercepted packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.
US President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of AQAP, the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network, and vowed to wipe out the organisation.
Dubai police said the parcel bomb found in the city-state bore the "hallmarks of Al-Qaeda". It involved the high explosive PETN hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile phone SIM card attached.
Asiri, who has been linked to the parcel bombs, features on most-wanted terror lists in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia
Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Asiri was thought to be hiding somewhere in Yemen.
"I'm sure both the Saudis and Yemenis (and others) are actively looking for him," he told AFP in an email response to questions.
© 2010 AFP