February 16th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

Reconstructing al Qaeda's printer bomb

Editor's note: This report is based on a one-year investigation by CNN into air cargo security in light of a thwarted plot by al Qaeda in October 2010 to blow up cargo jets over the United States. CNN's Nic Robertson's report "Deadly Cargo" airs on CNN Presents, Saturday and Sunday February 18, 19 at 8 p.m. ET.

By Paul Cruickshank

In late October 2010 al Qaeda in the Arabian Penisula (AQAP) dropped off two “printer bombs” at UPS and FedEx offices in Yemen addressed to the United States.

They were amongst the most sophisticated devices ever put together by al Qaeda terrorists, according to officials.

The group’s chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al Asiri filled the printer cartridges of laser printers with PETN, a white powdery explosive which is difficult to detect. He connected this explosive to a timer he hid in the circuitry of the printer. The group’s aim was to blow up the deadly cargo in planes over the eastern seabord of the United States, but the packages were intercepted in the UK and Dubai after a tip from Saudi intelligence.  If the bombs had detonated, they had the potential to bring down the planes they were travelling on, according to authorities.

British explosive expert Sidney Alford built a replica device for CNN to demonstrate its explosive potential. CNN has left out several critical steps from the video so as not to disclose how to assemble the bomb.

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Filed under: AQAP • Terrorism • Yemen
soundoff (47 Responses)
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  23. dan

    i would love to know how the al-qeada person
    or if the printer was travelling on its own on a UPS or fedex plane
    would just simple detonate? looooooooooooooool
    is the Alqeada man going to attach a wire to the printer and wait till the plane arrives in the US and then click?
    like seriously how does it go off? by turning it on?
    the powder in the compartment is not seeing or getting any heat regardless if its turned on
    what a FAIL

    February 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  24. Whombatt

    I have never seen a more contrived," Chicken Little" demonstration in my entire life. There is no proof that the explosive used was PETN. As far as we know, his silly little prattle showing the supposed PETN being put into the cartridge is totally bogus and the printer that was detonated could just have well been loaded with a bit of commercially available dynamite.


    February 19, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
    • Luther

      Is that you Ibrahim al Asiri?

      February 19, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  25. Beth

    Keep posting this stuff all over the internet and we'll have more "alleged terrorists." Way to go CNN for thinking this one through.

    February 17, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply
  26. J CAB

    We sit here and allow demonstrations on how these bombs are made and then wonder why we have all these idiots and home grown terroist attempting to duplicate the same thing. Coming from a law enforcement and Military view it's just making it harder for us to perform our jobs. I don't agree on senorship but in situations like these it should be!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 17, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  27. John "Aids Man" Holmes

    Yeah, but can it blow up in color?

    February 17, 2012 at 12:57 am | Reply
  28. Sayan Majumdar

    Beware of toy manufacturers in your neighbourhood ;).


    February 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  29. Beelzabubba

    Fantastic! Now I have the knowledge to smite mine enemy!

    Thank you, CNN.

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