Saudi key suspect, parcel bomb went on 'passenger plane'

SANAA (AFP) – An alleged Saudi bombmaker was Monday a key suspect behind two parcel bombs posted to the United States on cargo planes, as it emerged one of the packages also travelled on a passenger flight.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a 28-year-old alleged Al-Qaeda bombmaker, is a "leading suspect" in the parcel bomb plot uncovered late Thursday, a US official said Sunday.

AFP file - A handout picture combo released by the Yemeni interior ministry in 2009 shows suspected Yemen-based Saudi al-Qaeda expert Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

"Al-Asiri's past activities and explosives' experience make him a leading suspect," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The militant, thought to be hiding in Yemen, is wanted for a string of high-profile attacks linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's network.

"There are indications he may have had a role in past AQAP plots, including the attempted assassination of a Saudi official and last year's failed Christmas Day attack," the official said.

US counter-terrorism chief John Brennan also linked the attempted Christmas Day bombing and the package plot, both of involved the high explosive PETN.

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, he said.

"I think the indications are right now based on the forensics analysis that it's an individual who has been responsible for putting these devices together, the same," he told ABC News Sunday.

"He's a very dangerous individual -- clearly somebody who has a fair amount of training and experience."

Asiri features on most-wanted terror lists in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

In August 2009 he sent his 23-year-old younger brother on a suicide mission, with 100 grams (four ounces) of PETN underneath his white Saudi robe, to kill Saudi intelligence chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was wounded but survived.

US officials have said the parcel bombs intercepted in Dubai and Britain were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

Qatar Airways said a package containing explosives was flown from Sanaa to Doha and then on to Dubai on one of its aircraft. A source said on condition of anonymity that the plane was a passenger flight.

The bomb had PETN hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile phone SIM card attached, officials said.

The other parcel was found at East Midlands airport in central England and apparently travelled through Cologne in Germany. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it appeared designed to blow up a plane.

In Yemen a medical student detained on Saturday after being tracked down through a mobile number written on the explosives-filled packages was released Sunday, her father said.

A Yemeni official said Hanan al-Samawi, 22, was freed on condition she present herself for further questioning if required.

Hundreds of students rallied at Sanaa University Sunday calling for 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.

Yemeni officials have said they were examining 26 other seized packages and also studying their security system on cargo to enforce stricter measures.

Britain also said it will review how freight is screened.

"We are looking and we will look at screening of freight, we'll be looking at the processes that they use, we'll be talking with the industry about those issues," Home Secretary Theresa May told BBC television Sunday.

Shortly after the discovery of the bombs, Britain banned all freight from Yemen from coming into the country, including in transit. On Saturday, Germany and France took similar measures to suspend air freight from Yemen.

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