Yemen arrests woman over plane bomb plot
Yemeni security forces Saturday arrested a woman over parcel bombs found on two US-bound flights in a suspected Al-Qaeda plot that Britain said was aimed at blowing up at least one of the planes.
The arrest came a day after two packages containing explosives and addressed to synagogues in Chicago were intercepted on cargo aircraft in Dubai and Britain, triggering a massive international security alert.
"Yemeni security forces arrested a woman suspected of sending two parcel bombs," after the house in the capital Sanaa where she was staying was surrounded, Yemen's defence ministry said.
The woman was arrested with her mother after her mobile phone number was found on the receipt for the parcels, a security official later told AFP. She was a medical student at Sanaa university, the official added.
Yemeni officials also announced the seizure of 26 other parcels on Saturday and said they were being examined.
US President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network, and vowed to wipe out the organisation.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he gave the order to surround the house after receiving information from the United States and Britain, but he warned foreign powers not to meddle with his country.
"Yemen is determined to fight terror but will not allow anyone to intervene in its affairs," the president vowed.
News of the arrest came shortly after Obama's top counterrorism adviser and British Prime Minister David Cameron separately called Saleh to urge his "close" counterterrorism cooperation in the wake of the bomb plot.
Cameron said that after examination of the device found at East Midlands airport in central England, British authorities "believe that the device was designed to go off on the airplane."
"There is no early evidence it was designed to take place over British soil but of course we cannot rule that out," he said from Chequers, his country residence near London, where he was meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
British police said the package intercepted there had been flown in from Yemen via Cologne, Germany. Downing Street said Cameron and Merkel would discuss counter-terrorism cooperation during talks on Saturday and Sunday.
Cameron wrote in the News of the World, Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper, that the bomb "bears the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda".
In Dubai, police said that the bomb found there contained the high explosive PETN -- the same substance used by the would-be 2009 Christmas Day "underpants" bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
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 device consisted of a computer printer whose ink contained explosive material, connected to a mobile phone SIM card and a circuit board, a police statement said.
The statement said it "bears the hallmarks of those used by terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda."
The parcel was flown in from the Yemeni capital Sanaa via Doha in Qatar on a Federal Express aircraft, an Emirati aviation official later said.
The cargo scare presented a new twist, as Western authorities have usually focused on dangers to passenger jets following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Al-Qaeda hijacked planes and struck targets in New York and Washington.
The White House said Obama had telephoned Cameron on Saturday to thank him for his country's "close cooperation" in helping disrupt the plot.
Obama also called King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia after the White House said Riyadh had provided the tip-off that led to the discovery of the bombs.
Top officials said the threat level to the United States was unchanged, but the Department of Homeland Security announced it had boosted security measures.
Britain said there were no plans to change a threat level already at its second-highest point but added that it had banned all unaccompanied cargo from Yemen.
France on Saturday also suspended air freight from Yemen.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of bin Laden, has become a haven for violent extremists over the past decade.
As well as being the headquarters of AQAP, it is 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