In an article called "The Secrets of the Innovative Bomb" published Feb. 15, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula discusses its innovative designs for improvised explosive devices. The article offers useful insights into the group's use of such explosives, highlighting the growing threat to security screening.
The 12th edition of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)'s online magazine, Sada al-Malahim (Arabic for "Echo of Battle") released Feb. 15 contained an interesting article discussing the group's innovative, imaginative designs for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The article, titled "The Secrets of the Innovative Bomb," discussed the methods used to hide the IEDs employed in the group's failed attacks against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi deputy interior minister, and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. The article, bylined "The Military Committee," noted that there are secrets to AQAP's ability to smuggle IEDs past security. The first secret listed is the divine nature of the attacks. The author notes the attackers completely believe in God and act for God, and claims their inspiration and faith allow them to maintain a high degree of self-control in the face of scrutiny by security personnel. The second secret is that the AQAP operational planners carefully study security measures and then plan the type of IED to employ in an attack based upon those measures. This is a process STRATFOR has previously discussed many times when describing the adaptive and imaginative nature of jihadist planners like those with AQAP. The article notes that AQAP pays attention to X-ray machines, metal detectors and detection equipment intended to pick up explosive residue and odors — like sniffer machines and dogs — and then seeks vulnerabilities in the system. The final secret listed is that AQAP planners carefully study how security and intelligence services operate and seek ways to avoid them. They study how to travel without raising suspicion and note that the success of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in passing through multiple countries and airports in his effort to bomb Flight 253 despite his father's warnings to authorities resulted from these efforts. The author claims that the device used in the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef attack was different from the underwear device used by Abdulmutallab, and seeks to refute media reports that the devices were the same. First, the author claims there is no way that Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, who attacked Prince Mohammed Nayef, could have carried a syringe anywhere near the prince. Second, the author maintains that al-Asiri was strip-searched, and that Saudi security even inspected his underwear. Because of this, the author asserts that the device was remotely detonated and that the detonator had been implanted in al-Asiri's abdomen. The author asserts that the same type of device was not used in both attacks because AQAP seeks to use different methods to maintain flexibility in penetrating obstacles, i.e., security. The type of device the group's "military committee" (i.e., operational planners) will order the manufacturing department (i.e., bombmakers) to fabricate for a particular operation will depend on the target and the security associated with it. The author also claims that the use of PETN in the two devices was not a critical point because there are many equally effective explosive materials, and that the group is experimenting with other explosive compounds even more powerful than compounds like RDX and PETN. He also says that not all targets will be princes or aircraft and that the group might use chemical or biological weapons in future attacks. He then calls on professors of general chemistry, biochemistry, nuclear physics and organic chemistry to assist the group in conducting research. While the comments about chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks appear to be hyperbole, there are certain elements of this article that ring true. Certainly, the group is innovative and adaptive and does study security measures while planning attacks. The group's operatives are well-trained, able to pass through security and willing to give their lives for the cause. There also are some very potent modern explosive mixtures. Furthermore, the types of firing chains used in the two IEDs discussed in the article do indeed appear to have been different, with only one involving a syringe of acid. We also have never seen definitive proof that al-Asiri's device was not hidden inside his body and this article appears to leave open that possibility, though we doubt the device was implanted surgically. (As an aside, we are somewhat skeptical about the recent media reports discussing explosive breast implants. It is simply far easier to place explosives inside a body cavity, and that method of hiding something does not require surgery — or medical staff — and will not leave scars or require a lengthy recovery period like surgery would.) Ultimately, the prospect of explosives being hidden inside an attacker's body cavity continues to pose a serious threat to current security screening procedures, especially in the realm of airline security.