WASHINGTON: The man sent by Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen to blow up a US-bound airliner was a double agent who infiltrated the group and volunteered for the suicide attack, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing US and foreign officials.
Pulling off a stunning intelligence coup, the agent managed to exit Yemen, travelling via the United Arab Emirates, and delivered the explosive for the attack and information on the group's leaders to the CIA, Saudi intelligence and other spy agencies, the Times wrote.
The agent spent weeks with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and then handed over pivotal information that allowed the CIA to order an air raid on Sunday that killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior figure who was wanted for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
The explosive for the plot had been designed by AQAP's master bomb maker to avoid detection at airports, the paper said.
Officials did not divulge the agent's identity, nationality, or the intelligence service that recruited him, though they said it was not the CIA, according to the report.
The spy is now safely in Saudi Arabia and the bomb plot was kept secret for weeks by US and other intelligence agencies out of fear of retaliation against the agent and his family, it said.
Officials told the Times that risk had been "mitigated," apparently by moving both the agent and his relatives to safe locations.
The CIA and other government agencies declined to comment on the report.
A senior US official told the Times that a bomb for the attack was sewn into "custom fit" underwear that would have been difficult to detect even in a careful pat-down at an airport.
Unlike the device used in the failed December 2009 plot by AQAP to blow up an airliner en route to Detroit, this explosive could have been detonated in two ways, in case one failed, the unnamed official was quoted as saying.
The main charge was a high-grade military explosive that "undoubtedly would have brought down an aircraft," the official said.
ABC News had reported earlier that the latest plot by AQAP was thwarted by a spy allied with the CIA who infiltrated the group and took the explosive to Saudi Arabia. (AFP)