The mastermind of the Al Qaeda (AQAP) plot to plant explosive packages aboard US-bound air freighters is identified by debkafile's exclusive counter-terror sources as Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri, a Saudi Arabian. He is hiding out at the main Al Qaeda fighting base in the Yemeni province of Al Gouf, 140 kilometers south of Sanaa.
Our sources also reveal that Saturday night, Oct. 30, Yemeni president Abdullah Ali Saleh was still refusing to allow Washington to land US special forces in Al Gouf to wipe out the al Qaeda bastion which has so far resisted all the Yemeni army's efforts to root it out. Based there, according to US and Saudi intelligence, is the al Qaeda (AQAP) infrastructure of terror planners and bomb makers who planted the two explosive packages taken off cargo flights bound for Chicago, US, on Friday.
With Yemeni troops falling back against AQAP, US and Saudi forces Saturday stepped up their UAV strikes on the Al Gouf hideouts to keep al Qaeda fighters from escaping to other parts of Yemen. The US drones came from Djibouti and the Saudi pilotless aircraft from Assir just north of Yemen.
Our military sources reveal that US Combined Task Force – CTF 151 has been standing by Yemen's Red Sea coast aboard the Marine amphibious assault ship USS Boxer awaiting the order to land in Al Gouf, while the Marines Expeditionary Unit 26 waits on the USS Iwo Jima, accompanied by additional US warships.
Saudi King Abdullah and senior US and British government officials have been leaning hard on the Yemeni president to allow these forces to land and storm the bastion of al Qaeda's air freight package plotters. Ali Saleh Saturday night still stood by his refusal. To deflect their demands, the Yemeni president Saturday night began to disseminate an assortment of claims and data to show how hard he was working to crack the terrorist freight conspiracy.
Our sources report that even when he ordered Yemeni police to seize up to 30 pieces of suspect freight and arrest a woman and her mother as suspects of planting the explosive parcels on Fedex and UPS air freighters he was acting under duress. Saudi and US intelligence dropped this information in his lap with an ultimatum to take action or else they would take matters out of his hands.
The two women are believed to be no more than couriers at the end of the line who agreed to plant the parcels for a small sum. They are unlikely to have information that goes high up to the hideouts and identities of the planners. However, by locking them up in Yemeni cells, Ali Saleh has shut the door to US and Saudi counter-terror investigators trying to garner even small crumbs of information under questioning, although they are unlikely to accept this refusal without a fight.
For debkafile's extensive reporting on Al Qaeda's air freight conspiracy, click here.