US-bound parcels 'could have exploded:' Dubai, London
Two suspected Al-Qaeda parcels from Yemen intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago contained powerful explosives and could have exploded, authorities in Dubai and London said on Saturday.
US President Barack Obama said the two parcels, whose discovery on Friday after a tip-off from Saudi Arabia sparked an international security alert, were a "credible terrorist threat."
The packages were found on cargo planes in Dubai and at Britain's East Midlands airport.
Dubai police chief General Dahi Khalfan told AFP: "This was a parcel bomb and a terrorist act could have occurred," adding that the device could have "exploded" on board the airplane had it not been intercepted in time.
The parcel held in Dubai was flown in from Sanaa via Doha, an Emirati aviation official later said.
In London, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "I can confirm that the device was viable and could have exploded.
"The target may have been an aircraft and, had it detonated, the aircraft could have been brought down," she told reporters following a meeting of the government's emergency committee, Cobra.
Britain was not thought to have been a target, 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."
Earlier, Dubai police said investigation of a "package (intercepted there)) that came from Yemen through the US delivery company FedEx has shown that (one contained) a computer printer whose ink contained explosive material."
The device contained a highly explosive combination of PETN and lead azide and "was prepared in a professional manner and equipped with an electrical circuit linked to a mobile telephone (SIM) card concealed in the printer.
"The manner in which this device was prepared bears the hallmarks of those used by terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda," the statement said.
PETN (Pentaerythritol tetranitrate) is the same substance used by would-be 2009 Christmas Day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
The White House said Obama had telephoned British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday to thank him for his country's "close cooperation" in helping disrupt the plot.
It also said Obama counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan was regularly speaking with his British counterpart "as we work together to prevent and disrupt future efforts to attack our citizens."
Top officials said the threat level to the United States was unchanged, but the Department of Homeland Security announced it had boosted security measures.
May said there were no plans to change a threat level already at its second-highest point in Britain, suggesting an attack is highly likely.
But she said "further precautionary measures" were needed and said that all unaccompanied cargo from the 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, and we are talking to the transport sector."
Police in Britain said the package intercepted there was flown in from Yemen via Cologne, Germany.
Direct cargo and passenger flights from Yemen to Britain were suspended in January after the abortive Christmas Day bombing.
Obama and Napolitano both pointed the finger at Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
"We know that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies," Obama said.
And Napolitano told CNN: "We know that the perpetrators of this -- and it has the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, the AQAP -- they are constantly trying things to test our system."
A Yemeni official said his government had launched a full investigation and was working closely with international partners, including the United States.
Yemeni authorities later announced the seizure of 26 other parcels on Saturday and said they were being examined.
An official added that employees of an unnamed air transport company and of the Sanaa airport cargo-handling division had been detained for questioning on Saturday.
Referring to the possible targeting of synagogues, Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, told The New York Times: "It's obviously disturbing. But certainly the Jewish community will proceed as it proceeds. We'll just exercise caution."
The cargo scare offered a new twist as Western authorities have usually focused on dangers posed to passenger planes following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Al-Qaeda hijacked planes and struck targets in New York and Washington.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has become a haven for violent extremists over the past decade.
It is the headquarters of AQAP and the hiding place for US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to high-profile terror plots in the United States.
© 2010 AFP