The CIA thwarted a plot by al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design, U.S. counter-terrorism officials said Monday.
The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb was also built to be used in a passenger's underwear but contained a more refined detonation system, officials said.
The FBI is examining the device to determine whether it could have passed through airport security undetected. Officials said the device did not contain metal, meaning it most likely could have passed through an airport metal detector. However, it is not clear whether the new body scanners currently being used in many airports could have detected it.
Officials said that Ibrahim al-Asiri, the top explosive expert for the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was behind the attack. Fahd al-Quso, another prominent AQAP figure who was recently killed, is also believed to have played a part in executing the operation. However, officials deny that his assassination was linked to an attempt to thwart the plot.
"The recovery of the device was a team sport. It is another example of outstanding international counterterrorism cooperation," a senior U.S. official told CBS News.
The official said that at no time was any airplane or passengers in danger from the plot.
The new bomb was made with modified features meant to improve on the device that failed to blow up on board US Air Flight 252 over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. Both bombs are believed to be the work of al-Asiri.
"The device and the plot are consistent with what we know about AQAP's plans, intentions, and capabilities. They remain committed to striking targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the homeland, and Europe. And AQAP is probably feeling pressure to conduct a successful attack to, from their perspective, avenge the deaths of Bin Laden and Aulaqi," a senior U.S. official said.
"It is our assessment that the threat form AQAP is growing due to the territorial gains the group made during the political standoff in Yemen that lasted from early 2011 until this past February," the official said. "Those territorial gains have allowed the group to establish additional training camps."
The FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Exploitation Center will examine the newest device and try to develop information that can be shared with airport screeners around the world.
A senior U.S. official told CBS News there will not be noticeable or immediate changes in TSA airport passenger security.