A Yemen-based group affiliated to al-Qaeda planned to detonate a modified version of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate on a jet over Detroit in December 2009, the FBI said.
The device did not contain metal, meaning it could probably have passed through an airport metal detector, US officials added.
It is not clear if the device would have been detected by new body scanners used in airports.
The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought his plane tickets when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said.
The operation unfolded as the White House and Department of Homeland Security said they knew of no al-Qaeda plots against the US to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden’s death last Wednesday.
It was unclear who built the bomb but, because of its sophistication and its similarity to the Detroit device, authorities suspected it was the work of master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
Al-Asiri constructed the first underwear bomb and two others that al-Qaeda built into printer cartridges and shipped to the US on cargo planes in 2010.
Both of those bombs used a powerful industrial explosive and were nearly successful.
The operation was being seen as an intelligence victory for the US and a reminder of al-Qaeda’s continued ambitions, despite the death of bin Laden and other senior leaders.
Because of instability in the Yemeni government, the terrorist group has gained territory and strength.
It has set up terrorist camps and, in some areas, militants operate a de facto government.
But the group has suffered significant setbacks as the CIA and the US military focus on Yemen.
Senior al-Qaeda leader Fahd al-Quso was hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle in the southern Shabwa province on Sunday.