British device could have brought plane down: minister

30th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

A suspect package from Yemen found in Britain aboard a US-bound cargo plane could have exploded and brought a plane down, Home Secretary Theresa May said Saturday after talks with security officials.

The discovery of the package on a plane at East Midlands airport in central England, and another one in Dubai, sparked a global security alert Friday and US President Barack Obama said they represented a "credible terrorist threat".

"I can confirm that the device was viable and could have exploded," May told reporters following a meeting of the government's emergency committee.

"The target may have been an aircraft and had it detonated the aircraft could have been brought down," she added.

Britain was not thought to have been a target in the alleged plot and May said it was not believed that "the perpetrators of the attack would have known the location of the device when it was planned to explode."

There were no plans to raise Britain's threat level, already at its second highest level, suggesting an attack is highly likely.

But she said "further precautionary measures" were needed and said that all unaccompanied cargo from Yemen would be banned from Britain.

"I have agreed with the transport secretary that we will take immediate action to stop the movement of all unaccompanied air freight originating from Yemen into or through the UK," the home secretary said.

Police in Britain also announced Saturday that the package was flown in from Yemen via Cologne in Germany.

"The plane that landed at East Midlands Airport picked up the container in Cologne, Germany, from another flight originating from Yemen," said a statement.

Direct cargo and passenger flights from Yemen to Britain were suspended 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.

The government's emergency committee, Cobra, comprising senior ministers and security officials, met on Friday to respond to the security alert and then again on Saturday morning, chaired by the home secretary.

Prime Minister David Cameron is currently at his countryside retreat at Chequers outside London, where he was to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, and did not attend the meeting.

But May said: "I have been in regular contact with the prime minister. I have briefed him following the Cobra meeting, he has been kept in regular contact and regularly being updated on events as they unfold.

"The government's key aim is to keep the UK safe."

May said the investigation remained "sensitive" and she remained in contact with the US secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

"We are working closely with international partners to increase our understanding of this case and of course to bring those responsible to justice," she said.

Several British newspapers reported that the foreign intelligence service MI6 had tipped off the United States to the alleged plot, although the White House said that it was Saudi Arabia that had raised the alarm.

The government said late Friday that the package contained explosives but further tests were needed to say if it was a viable bomb.

The package was discovered at 3:28 am (0228 GMT) on Friday morning, when it arrived on a US-registered cargo plane at East Midlands airport during a routine stopover en route to Chicago via Philadelphia, police said.

Officers examined it before declaring there was no threat, but they reinstalled security cordons a few hours later to take a closer look.

© 2010 AFP

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