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Washington — Al-Qaida's master bomb maker who allegedly crafted the underwear device used in the failed plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009 was killed two years ago in Yemen, the government said Thursday.

The White House said it was the first time it was confirming the death of Ibrahim al-Asiri, whom it described as a senior al-Qaida bomb maker and terrorist coordinator, saying he had died in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in Yemen. 

"Al-Asiri's death significantly handicapped al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula," President Donald Trump said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors had previously identified al-Asiri as building the bomb sewn into the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who attempted the Christmas suicide mission in 2009.

The explosive caused a fire but didn't destroy the plane as it approached Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab was badly burned.

Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty, was convicted in February 2012 and sentenced to four life terms for trying to destroy the trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines plane, which was carrying 281 passengers and 11 crew to Detroit from Amsterdam.

Abdulmutallab had trained in Yemen under Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric, said the attempted bomb attack was justified in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel and to avenge the killing of Muslims worldwide.

In court, he said the bomb was a "blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims."

Now 32, he remains in a high-security federal prison in Fremont County, Colorado. 

The bomb was a novel device that went undetected by airport security because it consisted of an industrial plastic explosive, a syringe and two chemicals.

But the bomb malfunctioned and the plane landed safely in Detroit, with the botched attack leading to changes to airport security, watch lists and intelligence analysis.

Thursday's statement from the White House said al-Asiri was also behind the explosive devices built into printer cartridges and shipped to the U.S. on cargo planes in 2010 — a nearly successful plot— as well as those intended to be used against a passenger aircraft in 2012 and an attempted assassination of the former crown prince of Saudi Arabia. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed 

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