A Saudi tip about a possible Al Qaeda effort to bring down airplanes was relayed to U.S. authorities in early October, nearly three weeks before the group's Yemen affiliate tried to ship mail bombs in planes to the U.S., American intelligence officials say.
The Saudi intelligence tip was the first warning that helped to head off what could have been a devastating series of plane explosions. Western officials credit the Saudis with playing a crucial role in finding two mail bombs recovered last week in Dubai and Britain before they reached the U.S.
U.S. officials say the Saudi tip contained no mention of cargo planes, or any details of the plot. But they say it gave the U.S. and other Western officials enough of a warning to know what to look for. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group's branch based in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the failed plot on Friday.
The group's statement, obtained by the NEFA foundation, which tracks terrorists worldwide, is on a well known website featuring pictures of UPS and FedEx and one of the bombs housed in a printer component.
The bombs found in Dubai and England had been addressed to Jewish places of worship in Chicago, and their discovery set off a tense daylong search Oct. 29 for other packages that may have been part of the plot.
Al Qaeda also claimed responsibility for the Sept. 3 crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai.
"We say to Obama: we pointed three attacks to your planes within one year, and we will continue Allah-willing to direct our attacks on the American interests and the interests of America's allies," the group said, according to an English translation of the Arabic.
The Yemeni-based terror group was immediately a top suspect after the bombs were found last week.
"There are very strong indications that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was responsible for plotting last week's disrupted cargo plane plot, but we can't confirm at this point their claims about the early September incident," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Fox News on Friday on condition of anonymity.
A security official in the United Arab Emirates familiar with the investigations into the Sept. 3 crash and the mail bombs plot told The Associated Press on Friday that there is no change in the findings that the UPS crash in September was likely caused by an onboard fire and not by an explosive device.
"There was no explosion," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under standing UAE rules on disclosing security-related information.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.