Parcel bomb was meant to blow up plane: British PM

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A suspected Al-Qaeda parcel bomb found on a US-bound cargo jet was designed to blow up the plane, British premier David Cameron said Saturday, as Yemeni authorities arrested a suspect in the plot.

The discovery of two packages containing explosives on aircraft in Dubai and Britain on Friday sparked an international security alert, with US officials saying the parcels were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

But 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," the prime minister told BBC television from Chequers, his country residence near London.

US President Barack Obama has pointed the finger for the plot at Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network.

In Yemen, security forces on Saturday arrested a woman "suspected of sending two parcel bombs," after surrounding her house in the capital Sanaa, the defence ministry said, without providing further details.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- who also announced that the suspect's house had been surrounded -- said his country was "determined to fight terror but will not allow anyone to intervene in its affairs."

News of the arrest came shortly after Cameron and Obama's top countererrorism adviser both called Saleh to urge his "close" counterterrorism cooperation following the bomb plot.

Obama also called King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh provided the tip-off for the discovery of the bombs.

In Dubai, police said that the bomb found there contained the powerful high explosive PETN -- the same substance used by would-be 2009 Christmas Day 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.

Yemeni authorities also announced the seizure of 26 other parcels on Saturday and said they were being examined.

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 jets and struck targets in New York and Washington.

Cameron highlighted the new dangers, saying: "A package that started in Yemen, that landed in Germany, that landed in Britain en route to America, it just shows how united and determined we have to be to defeat terrorism."

Police in Britain said the package intercepted there was flown in from Yemen via Cologne, Germany.

The White House said Obama had telephoned Cameron on Saturday to thank him for his country's "close cooperation" in helping disrupt the plot.

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, suggesting an attack is highly likely, but added that it had banned all unaccompanied cargo from Yemen.

French aviation authorities on Saturday also suspended air freight from Yemen.

Obama has said the bombs represented a "credible terrorist threat," and his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the plot bore the "hallmarks of Al-Qaeda."

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of 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

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