The drone strike in Yemen that killed al-Qaida chief Anwar al-Awlaki appears to have also killed the terror group’s top Saudi bomb-maker, US officials said today.
Intelligence indicated Ibrahim al-Asiri also died in the attack, the officials, who spoke anonymously because the death had not been officially confirmed, said.
Al-Asiri is the bomb-maker believed to have made the explosives used in the foiled Christmas Day airline attack in Detroit, Michigan, in 2009 and last year’s attempted cargo plane bombing.
Al-Asiri’s death would make the attack perhaps the most successful single drone strike yet.
The FBI pulled al-Asiri's fingerprint off the bomb hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up the plane over Detroit.
Authorities also believe he built the bombs that al-Qaida slipped into printers and shipped to the US last year in a nearly catastrophic attack.
Along with al-Awlaki, the drone attack also killed Samir Khan, the editor of the al-Qaida propaganda magazine Inspire.
Both Khan and al-Awlaki are US citizens. Al-Awlaki was the target of the attack.
Christopher Boucek, a scholar who studies Yemen and al-Qaida, said al-Asiri was so important to the organisation that his death would “overshadow the news of al-Awlaki and Samir Khan”.
President Barack Obama steered America's war machine into uncharted territory yesterday with the US drone attack which targeted a convoy.
It was believed to be the first instance in which a US citizen – al-Awlaki - was tracked and executed based on secret intelligence and the president’s say-so.
In announcing al-Awlaki’s death, Mr Obama said, “Al-Qaida and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.
“Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americansm.”
Republicans and Democrats alike applauded the decision to launch the fatal assault on the convoy.
“It’s something we had to do,” said Republican Rep Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. “The president is showing leadership. The president is showing guts.”
“It’s legal,” said Rep Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s legitimate and we’re taking out someone who has attempted to attack us on numerous occasions. And he was on that list.”
That list is the roster of people the White House has authorised the CIA and Pentagon to kill or capture as terrorists.
The evidence against them almost always is classified. Targets never know for sure they are on the list, though some surely would not be surprised.
The list has included dozens of names, from little-known mid-level figures in the wilds of Pakistan to al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was killed in his compound in a comfortable Pakistani suburb.
Before al-Awlaki, no American had been on the list, but the legal process that led to his death was set in motion a decade ago.
On September 17 2001, President George Bush signed a presidential order authorising the CIA to hunt down terrorists worldwide. The authority was rooted in his power as commander in chief, leading a nation at war with al-Qaida.
The order made no distinction between foreigners and US citizens. If they posed a “continuing and imminent threat” to the United States, they were eligible to be killed, former intelligence officials said.