By Barbara Starr
The Yemeni branch of al Qaeda now has "a whole outfit designated to target the U.S. homeland," according to a source closely working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the military.
In addition, the U.S. now believes Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is working on "several types of bombs" that could get past airport x-ray screening machines.
The bomb technology is aimed at targeting the U.S., according to the source.
Although the group has not yet succeeded in any of their bomb plots against the U.S., there are several bomb makers and a group of would-be suicide bombers inside the group, which operates out of rudimentary training camps in southern Yemen.
"What I think is concerning to myself and other people is that it seems the talent of the organization is getting better, that is, they are much more capable of carrying out attacks. So when something fails like the Christmas Day plot in 2009 or again the cartridge plot in 2010, the organization is able to adapt, and the next time they come back, they present a better and more lethal threat. I think that's what has a lot of people in U.S. and Saudi intelligence quite concerned," says analyst Gregory Johnsen, a Near East Studies scholar.
CNN has previously reported that AQAP master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri has been involved in training both bombmakers and suicide bombers. The source added that al-Asiri is now not making all the components himself. This gives the group the extra security and advantage of having multiple manufacturing capability if al Asiri were to be killed.
The source also confirmed that the latest device - turned over to the U.S. by a mole - had no metallic parts and an advanced detonation system to improve the chance the detonator would result in the entire bomb exploding. AQAP bomb designs are aimed at hiding explosives in clothing, camera lenses and animals according to the source.
But it is also the fundamental growth in AQAP's ability to control territory that is making them increasingly thought to target since the 2009 incident.
"AQAP at that time was about two to three hundred members and it controlled no territory in Yemen. Now, two and a half years later, the terror group has more than tripled in strength to over a thousand members and it controls a great amount of territory in southern Yemen," Johnsen said in an interview with CNN. He said the group controls towns, is running its own police department, and in certain places has established court systems.
"It’s providing services – electricity and water to some of the citizens, and really it sees itself in parts of southern Yemen as a government," Johnsen said.