Britain probes whether package was 'viable' bomb
British authorities are probing whether a package from Yemen containing explosives found on a cargo jet bound for the United States was a "viable" bomb, Home Secretary Theresa May said Saturday.
US President Barack Obama said on Friday that the package found at East Midlands Airport in central England and another package discovered in Dubai both contained explosive material and were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.
"At this stage I can say that the device did contain explosive material. But it is not yet clear that it was a viable explosive device. The forensic work continues," May said.
Media reports said the package was found inside a toner cartridge with wires attached to it.
May said she had spoken with the US Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and added that the British government's emergency planning committee, known as COBRA, had met on Friday and would meet again on Saturday.
Britain is "urgently considering" new security measures for air cargo from Yemen following the discovery of the package and is "in discussion with industry contacts" over the issue, May said.
The British government suspended direct flights from Yemen in January after a Nigerian "underwear bomber" with links to the Arab country allegedly tried to blow up a US airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
"Safety and security of the UK remains my number one priority. We are working closely with our international colleagues and will continue to do so," she added.
Several British newspapers reported that the foreign intelligence service MI6 had tipped off the United States to the alleged bomb plot -- although the White House said that it was Saudi Arabia that had raised the alarm.
The Daily Telegraph said MI6 had uncovered the existence of the packages after one of its officers responsible for Yemen had received a tip-off. The Guardian said MI6 notified Washington within minutes of the discovery of the package at 3:28 am (0228 GMT) on Friday.
There was no confirmation from British authorities.
The discovery of the two packages on cargo planes in transit for the United States sparked an international security alert. Other planes at US airports were checked because they were thought to contain items from Yemen.
Obama said at the White House on Friday that the packages were a "credible terrorist threat." He announced that they contained explosives before British authorities had given any confirmation.
British police said a suspect package had arrived aboard an "American-registered cargo plane" at East Midlands Airport during a "routine stopover".
The plane was en route to Chicago via Philadelphia.
Police said "explosives officers" attended the airport but that the airport "continued to operate as normal during the day."
Local police said they had examined the suspicious package at East Midlands Airport in the early hours of Friday morning, before announcing there was no threat mid-morning.
They then reinstalled security cordons at about 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) and later lifted them again.
© 2010 AFP