US-bound parcels contained explosives: Dubai, London

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Two suspected Al-Qaeda parcels from Yemen that were intercepted before arriving at their destination -- synagogues in Chicago -- contained powerful explosives, authorities in Dubai and London said on Saturday.

US President Barack Obama said the parcels, whose discovery after a tip-off sparked an international security alert, were a "credible terrorist threat."

The packages were found on cargo planes on Friday -- one in Dubai and the other at Britain's East Midlands airport -- and law enforcement officials were searching for others on Saturday.

Dubai police said "the investigation into the suspicious packages 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.

"Thanks to rapid intervention, the police in Dubai foiled a terrorist operation in the country where the package was destined."

PETN (Pentaerythritol tetranitrate) is the same substance used by would-be 2009 Christmas day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

In London, authorities were probing whether the package found at the East Midlands airport was a "viable" bomb, Home Secretary Theresa May said.

"At this stage I can say that the device did contain explosive material. But it is not yet clear that it was a viable explosive device. The forensic work continues," May said on Saturday.

May said she had spoken with US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Meanwhile the British government's emergency planning committee, known as COBRA, met on Friday and on Saturday.

"Safety and security of the UK remains my number one priority. We are working closely with our international colleagues and will continue to do so," she added.

Britain is "urgently considering" new security measures for air cargo from Yemen following the discovery of the package and is "in discussion with industry contacts" over the issue, May said.

Napolitano said on Saturday that the content of the packages still had to be analysed to draw proper conclusions.

"All of that needs to be done by trained scientists and they are doing that right now," Napolitano told Fox News Channel.

The White House said it had been tipped off by Saudi Arabia to the threat and was "grateful... for their assistance in developing information that helped underscore the imminence of the threat emanating from Yemen."

"We will continue to pursue additional protective measures as long as it takes to ensure the safety and security of our citizens," Obama told a press conference on Friday.

On Friday, US and Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany an Emirates plane into New York, but Emirati authorities later said it was not carrying cargo from Yemen.

Top officials said the threat level to the United States was unchanged, but the Department of Homeland Security announced it had boosted security measures.

Obama made it clear he suspected Al-Qaeda's Yemeni-based affiliate of being behind the plot, which could have serious ramifications for the global cargo industry.

"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."

A Yemeni official said his government had launched a full investigation and was working closely with international partners, including the United States.

"This probe is being carried out in coordination with the competent authorities in the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States, and its results will be announced in due time," he was quoted as saying by Yemen's Saba news agency.

In the hours following the discovery of the packages, US authorities gave advance warning to Jewish leaders in Chicago of a threat against synagogues there.

However, synagogues in Chicago planned to hold regular services on Saturday.

"It's obviously disturbing," Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, told The New York Times. "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 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula 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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