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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Scotland Yard announced yesterday that one of the package bombs discovered last month was about six hours away from exploding. Had the package actually made it into an air cargo hold, it might well have blown up a plane somewhere over the East Coast of the U.S. The group responsible is called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. And as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, U.S. officials are increasingly convinced the group was not working alone.

DINA TEMPLES RASTON: Investigators are working under the theory that al-Qaida's core leadership may have had a hand in the foiled attack. One reason: the plot was just too sophisticated for AQAP to pull off on its own.

Professor BRUCE HOFFMAN (Georgetown University): AQAP has shown itself to be so deviously or fiendishly clever.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Bruce Hoffman runs the security studies program at Georgetown University.�

Prof. HOFFMAN: I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that they cooked this up and then had the wherewithal to look for the expertise to make it possible.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Expertise from al-Qaida's core leadership itself.�

Intelligence officials say there's evidence that al-Qaida central is reaching out to affiliates like never before.�It's sending messengers with strategic guidance and real world expertise to its various groups.�

Consider al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. It's had trouble launching a successful plot. Last year, one of its operatives tried to kill the head of Saudi intelligence.�He managed to blow himself up, but the Saudi intelligence chief survived. Last Christmas Day, the group tried to down a U.S. airliner.�That bomb failed to go off as well.

U.S. officials tell NPR that those failures are one reason why al-Qaida's leadership is becoming more hands on. Bruce Hoffman says al-Qaida central is just being a good boss.

Prof. HOFFMAN: A good manager also knows when to step in and provide the top-down guidance that can take an idea off the drawing board and implement it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And that's what's kind of different? They hadn't been doing that before?

Prof. HOFFMAN: I think there was much less of it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Intelligence officials tell NPR it appears that al-Qaida central is trying to impose a kind of unified command. And, officials say, the man they've put in charge of that is an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel. He's a longtime member of core al-Qaida. And he fled to Iran a short time after the 9/11 attacks. He'd been under house arrest there until just this past April. A short time later, U.S. intelligence noticed al-Qaida core's changing relationship with affiliates.�

Among other things, there's been new pressure on affiliates to work more closely together.�Since last spring, AQAP and another group called al-Shabab, which is al-Qaida's arm in Somalia, have been sharing personnel, ammunition, and training.�

Mr. RICK NELSON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): The affiliates, you know, most of them, as you pointed out, were regionally focused are now seeing the advantages of coordinating more closely amongst themselves.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Rick Nelson is a terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.�

Mr. NELSON: And now you're seeing them be more aggressive. And what they're getting is a return on their investment by this aggressiveness. They're seeing their ranks of individuals that they're able to recruit increase. They're seeing their national - international profiles increase. And it's serving their purposes quite well, because ultimately what it'll do is help them with their regional grievances.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A new coziness between al-Qaida's Yemeni and Somali affiliates has U.S. officials particularly worried.�That's because dozens of U.S. residents joined al-Shabab over the past couple of years, including many Somali-Americans from Minneapolis.

Most of them carry U.S. passports and officials worry they could slip back into this country to launch an attack. When al-Shabab was focused on the fight in Somalia that was less of a worry. Now that they've joined hands with al-Qaida's arm in Yemen those recruits are more of a threat.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.�

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