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CIA Informant Posed As A Would-Be Bomber To Foil Underwear Bomb Plot

A new key detail has emerged in the foiled underwear bomb plot: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that a CIA informant posed as a suicide bomber in order to persuade the al-Qaida branch in Yemen to hand over a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb.

The Los Angeles Times was the first to report the news. The paper adds that the operation was a joint effort between the CIA and Saudi Arabian intelligence and once the informant received the bomb, he "arranged to deliver the explosive device to U.S. and other intelligence authorities waiting in another country, officials said Tuesday."

Officials have said that the bomber had been instructed by al-Qaida to choose a U.S.-bound flight to target but that the bomber, who we now know was a double agent, had not yet bought his tickets.

The informant is safe outside Yemen and the bomb is at the FBI's explosives lab in Quantico, Va. The bomb — a new, nonmetallic device designed in order to evade airport security — is thought to be the work of al-Qaida's top bomb maker, a 28-year-old Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

Dina reports that the bomb "bears the hallmarks of Asiri's work, and appears to be an effort to improve on technology" used during the failed plot to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009.

The Times adds:

"The operation had an added benefit, however. It produced intelligence that helped U.S. authorities finally locate Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, a top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen. Quso had been on the FBI's most wanted list for his alleged involvement in the bombing of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000. The FBI had offered a $5-million bounty for information leading to his capture.

"On Sunday, a CIA drone aircraft fired a missile that killed Quso as he stepped out of his car in Yemen, U.S. officials said."

Update at 6:54 p.m. ET. Informant Travelled Through UAE:

The New York Times is reporting that the double agent infiltrated the terrorist group and after spending "weeks at the center of the terrorist network's most dangerous affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," he was handed the bomb with a mission. The informant then turned over the bomb to U.S. intelligence and was also able to direct a strike on Quso.

The Times adds:

"Officials would not disclose the agent's identity, nationality, or the intelligence service that recruited him, though they said it was not the C.I.A. The agent is now safe in Saudi Arabia, officials said. The bombing plot was kept secret for weeks by the C.I.A. and other agencies because they feared retaliation against the agent and his family.

"Officials said Tuesday night that risk has now been "mitigated," evidently by moving both the agent and his relatives to safe locations.

"A senior American official said the device was sewn into 'custom fit' underwear that would have been very difficult to detect even in a careful pat-down. Unlike the device used in the unsuccessful December 2009 plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit, this bomb could be detonated in two ways, in case one failed, the official said."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.