It appears the the recent US-Yemeni operations targeting AQAP in various parts of Yemen have stirred up the hornet's nest...
Northwest Airlines 253 (originating from Amsterdam) was the site today of a failed attempt to detonate some sort of Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The Wall Street Journal reports that after the plane landed in Detroit, TSA and FBI officials quickly took one individual into custody and were interviewing all passengers. Although full details are yet to emerge, initial reports say that the man had some sort of IED strapped to his leg and attempted to detonate the device in midair. The device malfunctioned and started a small fire.
According to the WSJ, the man told officials that he had been given the IED by an AQ (or AQ-affiliated) operative based in Yemen and was acting on their instructions. If true, this would show the ability of AQAP to extend their reach beyond the wider Arabian Peninsula into the West and the US specifically. It also clearly raises questions of physical security vulnerabilities on flights originating from international locations.
As more details emerge in terms of how the events leading up to the failed attack unfolded, the identity of the attacker(s), and the attackers' links to the wider AQAP and AQ networks, we'll gain a better understanding of what this really means. For now, though, I would assess that this is an attempt to show that AQAP is upset after the two recent US-Yemeni strikes against the group over the last ten days. If they were able to put together an attack on such short notice (even a fairly simple one like this), it clearly shows that the group is more capable and has a wider global reach than many initially thought.
*Update: The WSJ reports that Nigerian national Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab (a student in London) is the primary suspect in the attack. The article also provides some good background on the recent increase in overt activity by AQAP in Yemen, as we have discussed in several previous posts here on al Sahwa.