Local aviation security expert talks about foiled al-Qaeda underwear bomb plot

CLEVELAND - That the CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S. bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design is no surprise to the University of Akron's Andrew Thomas.

"No question about it that the quality of these bombs is getting better, there's a natural evolution here with these people," said Thomas who has written several books on aviation security.

The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more refined detonation system that didn't have any metal.

"The fact that its non-metallic is going to make it much more difficult to detect which is going to put the emphasis much more on finding the people who are going to carry out these plots then simply just trying to stop the things from getting through because they're going to be more difficult to find," Thomas said.

That's something he said was on display with the discovery of this device last week before the Yemen based bomber could pick an airline target.

"The good news is that the intelligence network seemed to do a better job in terms of being able to thwart the individual who had the bomb on them which means that our intelligence agencies the airport security folks are spending more time looking for bad people then simply trying to stop bad things from getting through."

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security acknowledged the existence of the bomb late Monday, but there were no immediate plans to adjust security procedures at airports. Other officials, who were briefed on the operation, insisted on anonymity to discuss details of the plot, many of which the U.S. has not officially acknowledged.

"The device never presented a threat to public safety, and the U.S. government is working closely with international partners to address associated concerns with the device," the FBI said in a statement.

Thomas though says planes will always remain an attractive target to terrorists, something that dates back to the earliest days of commercial aviation in Ohio.

"The first commercial airliner to be bombed was in 1933 a United Airlines flight that left Cleveland for Chicago that blew up over Chesterton Indiana killed everybody on board," he said. "So as long as theirs been commercial airliners flying in the skies there's been people looking to blow them up."

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