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US officials try to confirm wounding of master al Qaeda bomb-maker

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, described as al Qaeda's master bomb-maker.
Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, described as al Qaeda's master bomb-maker.Saudi Interior Ministry via Reuters

American officials sought Tuesday to confirm reports that al Qaeda’s master bomb-maker, who was behind the failed plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, was hurt in a U.S. drone strike over the weekend in Yemen.

Yemeni news reports said that the bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, was seriously wounded in a strike that targeted a car carrying four suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemeni-based branch of the terror organization.

Two of the suspects were killed and a third wounded besides Asiri, according to the reports.

American officials told NBC News that they could not immediately confirm the reports and that it would take time to sort them out.

Asiri has been described by counterterrorism analysts as skilled and inventive. The 2009 plot involving the Detroit flight failed when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could not detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear. Abdulmutallab was sentenced last year to life in prison.

Asiri was also behind a 2010 plot to take down planes with bombs concealed in printers, and the surgical implanting of a bomb in his own brother, who was killed in the attempted assassination of a top Saudi Arabian counterterrorism official in 2009.

Threats from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were behind U.S. officials’ decision to close 19 embassies and consulates earlier this month.

All but one, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, have reopened. The American ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, who was in Washington on previously scheduled travel when the embassy was closed, is back at his post. Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Monday that the U.S. is “taking appropriate steps to plan for reopening Sanaa as soon as possible.”

Catherine Chomiak of NBC News contributed to this report.