Yemen parcel bomb for US went on 'passenger plane'

31st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

One of two intercepted parcel bombs sent from Yemen traveled on a passenger plane, a Qatar Airways source said on Sunday, as a US official pointed to a Saudi bombmaker as the "leading suspect."

The airline said a package containing explosives was flown from Sanaa to Doha, then on to Dubai, on one of its aircraft, which the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said was a passenger plane.

In the United States, a US official described Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, an alleged Al-Qaeda bombmaker born in Saudi Arabia but based in Yemen, as a "leading suspect" in the parcel bomb plot.

"Al-Asiri's past activities and explosives' experience make him a leading suspect," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There are indications he may have had a role in past AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) plots, including the attempted assassination of a Saudi official and last year's failed Christmas Day attack."

Counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, meanwhile, said there was no intelligence indicating there were any additional parcel bombs from Yemen, although he refused to rule out the possibility.

He also said that evidence suggested the same person built the parcel bombs and the device worn by the "underwear" bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who botched an attack on a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

In Yemen, security forces on Saturday detained a woman tracked down through a mobile number written on the explosives-filled packages, which were intercepted in Britain and Dubai the day before, Yemeni officials said.

Hundreds of students rallied at Sanaa University calling for the release of the woman, who a rights group identified as Hanan al-Samawi, 22.

The Hood rights group's Abdul Rahman Barman told AFP he doubted Samawi was behind the plot as she had no known Islamist links and Al-Qaeda was unlikely to have left behind an incriminating phone number.

Barman said his group received information that "all employees" from the Sanaa offices of FedEx and UPS -- the services on which the packages were reportedly posted -- had also been detained for questioning on Saturday.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said security services "received information that a girl has sent the parcels from the two cargo companies," apparently referring to UPS and FedEx.

The arrested woman, a medical student at Sanaa university whose father is a petroleum engineer, was held with her mother, a Yemeni security official said.

Security forces closed the offices of the US firms on Saturday, while setting up barricades in most areas of the Yemeni capital, checking the identification of car passengers.

Yemeni officials have said they were examining 26 other seized packages.

Yemen is studying the security system on cargo to enforce stricter measures, Qatar's state news agency QNA quoted an official from the Yemeni civil aviation authority, Mohammed Abdulqader, as saying on Sunday.

Yemen has invested huge sums in the field of security equipment in airports and installed sophisticated systems to detect explosives and inspect passengers, baggage and freight, he said.

Britain also said Sunday that it will review how freight is screened.

Shortly after the discovery of the bombs, Britain banned all freight from Yemen from coming into the country, including in transit. On Saturday, France took similar measures suspending air freight from Yemen.

Stringent measures were imposed around the world as British Prime Minister David Cameron said the bomb found at an airport in central England was apparently designed to blow the plane out of the sky.

US officials have said the two intercepted packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

US President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of AQAP, the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network, and vowed to wipe out the organisation.

Dubai police said the parcel bomb found in the city-state bore the "hallmarks of Al-Qaeda". It involved the high explosive PETN hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile phone SIM card attached.

© 2010 AFP

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