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Agent Who Helped Thwart Underwear Bomb Plot Was British Citizen

The undercover agent who helped thwart thelatest underwear bomb plot was a British citizen, NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has learned.

"The undercover operation was being directed by British intelligence with help from other international intelligence agencies," Dina tells us. "The British had put some pressure on the Obama administration not to reveal their role in the secret mission."

Before today's revelation, Dina says, it was assumed the agent had a connection to Saudi Arabia, because "there are so many tribal connections and various language connections and familial connections between Saudis and Yemenis by the border."

But it turns out it was a British citizen who infiltrated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and eventually convinced them to hand him their latest-generation bomb by posing as a suicide bomber.

The agent then handed that bomb — a new, nonmetallic device designed to evade airport security — to American intelligence. The device is now in the hands of the FBI in Quantico, Va.

The British, the Saudis and the Americans work very closely in counterterrorism operations, Dina tells us. The Americans were a step removed and knew what was going on "but at the same time this wasn't a CIA operation," Dina says.

Update at 4:38 p.m. ET. Other Reporting:

Like many stories of this kind, details are sketchy. With that in mind, here's what other news organizations are reporting about this particular twist:

-- CNN is reporting that the "mole" is a British citizen of Saudi origin. Quoting Saudi officials, CNN says, the man was a Saudi agent, not a British agent.

The man grew up in Europe and "at some point fallen in with jihadist sympathizers." Saudi intelligence "turned" him and recruited him about a year ago, CNN reports.

-- MSNBC is reporting that the man was "a British national of Middle Eastern origin" and mirroring Dina's reporting that British intelligence was "heavily involved" in recruiting him.

-- The Washington Post reports the informant was working for Saudi Arabia and the informant handed the bomb to their intelligence service in Yemen.

"The informant was one of several operatives sent into Yemen over the past two years with Western passports and other documents designed to attract the attention of a terrorist group that is determined to attack the United States, U.S. and Western intelligence officials said Wednesday," the paper reports.

-- The Telegraph in the U.K. also concludes that spy holds a British passport.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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