- Explosive would be applied wet to clothing and then detonate when dry
- Experts fear it would be undetectable with current airport security systems
- It is understood to be the work of Al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker Al-Asiri
- America has now warned all ‘non-essential’ staff in Yemen to evacuate
- Fourth attack in week to hit car believed to be carrying al-Qaeda members
- UK Foreign office has also withdrawn embassy staff from the country
- Comes amid heightened fears of large scale terrorist attack
Al Qaeda terrorists could try to bring down planes using an undetectable explosive soaked into their clothes, officials fear.
The organisation’s bomb-makers are reportedly developing an ‘ingenious’ system whereby shirts and trousers drenched in the explosive could be ignited when dry.
It would be undetectable under current security measures and remove the need for terrorists to mix liquid explosives on board, security sources told the American TV network ABC News yesterday.
The latest threat to air passengers is one of the reasons behind the current global terror alert, according to two senior US government officials.
The reports are the most detailed yet into the nature of intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, his deputy in Yemen.
British bomb expert Sidney Alford confirmed that the new method was possible using easily available chemicals, but pulling it off would be tricky as the soaking process would dilute the explosive.
He said: ‘The clothes act as a diluent and reduce the power of the explosives.’
However, igniting treated clothes could be done simply with a match. Passengers are allowed to carry a single box of safety matches or a cigarette lighter on flights.
The new explosive has reportedly been developed by the notorious bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who made the device used by convicted ‘underwear bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas Day in 2009.
Other reports have suggested that Al-Asiri is developing bombs that could be sewn under the skin of terrorists.
The level of ‘terror chatter’ being monitored by security services has been described as one of the most serious threats to American and Western interests since the 9/11 attacks.
In response, the Foreign Office last night evacuated all staff from the British embassy in Yemen.
Those posted in Sana’a, the capital – including ambassador Jane Marriott, who has only been there a month – were told to return to the UK because of ‘increased security concerns’.
The US also ordered all non-essential personnel at its Yemeni embassy to get out, and American citizens still in the country were flown to safety by military aircraft.
Dozens of Al Qaeda operatives are said to have streamed into Sana’a in the past few days, forcing the country’s military to use ‘extraordinary and unprecedented’ security measures to protect official buildings.
At the same time, at least four suspected terrorists have been killed in an American drone strike in the eastern Marib region of Yemen.
The drone fired a missile at a car carrying the four men, setting it on fire and killing all of them, the officials said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, the officials said they believe one of the dead is Saleh Jouti, a senior Al Qaeda member.
It’s the fourth drone attack in the past week to hit a car believed to be carrying Al Qaeda members.
On Sunday 20 US embassies and consulates were closed after conversations between two senior al-Qaeda figures, including top leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, were reportedly intercepted.
A U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat said electronic communications were picked up several weeks ago between Ayman al-Zawahri – the head of the global terror network who succeeded Osama bin Laden – and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Officials had previously called the communication ‘strategically significant’ and likened the intelligence ‘chatter’ to that intercepted in the days leading up to 9/11.
The BBC reports that Yemeni intelligence services discovered al-Qaeda members had arrived in the Yemeni capital Sanaa over the past few days ready to implement a large plot.
It is said that that plot would include explosions and suicide attacks aimed at Western ambassadors and embassies.
Yemen’s interior ministry has sent armoured military vehicles to surround the presidential palace, and other important buildings.
Western embassies in the capital of Sanaa are also being protected.
The State Department said in a travel warning that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Yemen ‘due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks’ and said U.S. citizens in Yemen should leave immediately because of an ‘extremely high’ security threat level.
‘As staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services remains limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation,’ the travel warning said.
The BBC reports that the White House and the US state department say the current threat comes from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but have refused to release further details.
The UK Foreign Office said in a statement: ‘Due to increased security concerns, all staff in the British embassy have been temporarily withdrawn and the embassy will remain closed until staff are able to return.’
Several European countries have also temporarily shut missions in Yemen.