Friday, October 29, 2010

Yemen packages trigger terror alerts

Planes at several US airports were searched on Friday after a tip alerted authorities to a potential terror attack. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were cited as being at the top of a list of suspected groups behind what has been described as a dry-run for a real operation. 

The story broke at around 16:45 UK time with media outlets reporting that a bomb had been found on at least one cargo plane and that others were being searched. Details remained sketchy for some time with conflicting reports coming from news organisations. 

After some hours the was a sense of clarity after White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement. He confirmed that intelligence and law enforcement agencies had discovered "potential suspicious packages" on two planes in transit to the United States. "Based on close cooperation among US government agencies and with our foreign allies and partners, authorities were able to identify and examine two suspicious packages, one in London and one in Dubai," Gibbs said. Both of the packages originated from Yemen and it is understood that some aircraft were heading to several locations. Amongst those cited in the media were East Midlands' airport in Britain, and Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International Airports in the US

The President was notified of a potential terrorist threat on Thursday night at 10:30, by John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism. This coincided almost exactly to the time a suspicious package was identified at a distribution depot at East Midlands airport. But according to a UK intelligence source no explosive substances were found in the package and a cordon that had been set up was later removed.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic several planes were checked over by officials. A UPS plane was grounded at Newark Liberty in New York but was given the all clear after several hours. A UPS van was also stopped and checked over in Brooklyn, in the New York area, but that too was given the all clear by authorities. Philadelphia International Airport was the last to be given the okay. Late into the afternoon hazmat teams were still checking over the UPS plane at Philadelphia.

Reports from Dubai suggested that police had taken away a suspect package but there was no word as the contents. As for the 'device' found in Britain, CNN showed exclusive pictures of a toner cartridge with wires attached. Authorities has only said that the items found have been sent for analysis and that it was too early to say if the packages were sent as part of a test-run.

The incident throws up more questions than it answers. Why would a terrorist send toner cartridges 'disguised as a bomb'? Where did the mysterious tip-off come from? The purpose of what is already being called the "package plot" is not clear, but it has certainly raised security levels. Jewish institutions have been told to be on alert after reports that the packages appear to all be sent to synagogues in the Chicago area.

UPS say they are fully cooperating with authorities who are monitoring reports of potentially suspicious packages on board their cargo flights. "We can confirm that authorities have investigated two aircraft in Philadelphia and one in Newark. All of these aircraft have landed safely. Security is of the utmost importance to UPS," the company said. There is no word as to whether they have halted shipments from Yemen, but FedEx has said it has stopped all shipments from the country following the alert. "In cooperation with the FBI, local authorities have confiscated a suspicious package at the FedEx facility in Dubai. The shipment originated in Yemen and as an additional safety measure, FedEx has embargoed all shipments originating from Yemen," FedEx said. [Sky News / BBC / CNN / al Jazeera

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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