US authorities trying to understand the 'scope of threat' faced
Two packages that were sent to the US from Yemen contained explosive materials and represented a “credible terrorist threat,” President Barack Obama said on Friday.
Officials in the UK and Dubai intercepted the packages, which were addressed to two synagogues in Chicago, he said.
The discovery yesterday triggered examinations of three air-cargo flights that landed in Philadelphia and in Newark, New Jersey.
An Emirates airline passenger plane was escorted by fighter jets to New York because of concerns about a package from Yemen on board.
Nothing suspicious was found on the planes, according to the FBI.
Authorities are trying to “understand who is behind” the explosives and “the scope of the threat that we might face,” John Brennan, Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said at a briefing yesterday at the White House.
Brennan said authorities are conducting a forensic analysis and examining intelligence that might indicate “how this was going to be used.”
Additional steps are being taken to screen cargo, Obama said in remarks at the White House. Brennan said it is “prudent” to ensure that packages from Yemen are “looked at very carefully.”
The incident spurred United Parcel Service and FedEx Corp to put an embargo on shipments from Yemen, where groups linked to al Qaeda are known to operate.
Obama who took no questions from reporters said: “The American people should know that the counter-terrorism professionals are taking this threat very seriously and are taking all necessary and prudent steps to ensure our security.”
The packages containing explosive material were the size of a bread box, according to Brennan. He didn’t answer questions about the explosives or how they could have been detonated.
The first package was found in East Midlands Airport in the UK, Brennan said.
Saudi Arabia helped uncover the shipments of explosive materials, Brennan said later in a statement.
Authorities didn’t name the places of worship to which the packages were addressed. Neither was directed to a synagogue near Obama’s home in Chicago, said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
Obama said he and his top intelligence aides concluded that there was “a credible terrorist threat against our country” and pledged to “destroy this al Qaeda affiliate” based in Yemen.
Brennan notified Obama about the potential threat at 10:35 pm on October 28, setting in motion a response that included the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration, Gibbs said.
One package was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai, said Maury Lane, a spokesman for the Memphis, Tennessee based company.
UPS hasn’t confirmed whether the UK package was at one of its facilities.
The Atlanta based company said the Federal Bureau of Investigation checked packages on three jets from Europe, two of which landed in Philadelphia and the other in Newark.
On October 27, a Virginia man was arrested for allegedly participating in what he thought was an al Qaeda plot to bomb subway stations in the Washington area. Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn, a US citizen born in Pakistan, is being held without bail.
Yemen also figured into the US inquiry of the last major security threat on a US jetliner, the attempted bombing of a Delta Air Lines plane on December 25.
Obama told reporters in January that evidence indicates that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was trained and equipped by a Yemeni group affiliated with al Qaeda.
No UPS planes take off or land in Yemen, and there are no direct flights from the country to either the US or the UK, according to a statement from the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
The embassy said: “The Yemeni government launched a full-scale investigation,” and added: “We are working closely with international partners,including the US, on the incident.”
Checks for explosives are required for all 4.2 billion pounds of freight shipped on passenger planes annually within the US, plus goods on flights headed for international destinations, under a US rule that took effect in August.
UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, screens shipments that will be carried on passenger jets, although it doesn’t have to screen cargo on its own planes, according to information on the company’s website.
The discoveries in Dubai and the UK set off a day of law enforcement investigations stretching from the Arabian Gulf region to the US Emirates Flight 201, which originated in Dubai, was escorted to New York’s Kennedy airport by military jets because it carried cargo from Yemen, the FBI said.
The Department of Homeland Security said it was boosting security at airports, including more thorough screening of cargo.
In a statement, the department said: “Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs.”
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, a not-for- profit charity group, was advising local synagogues to take “appropriate precautions” yesterday after being notified by authorities to be on alert, Linda Haase, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a telephone interview.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, in a statement yesterday, said he has “committed the full resources of the state of Illinois, working cooperatively with federal and local officials, to ensure the continued safety and security of everyone in our state.”
Quinn, a Democrat, said he has been in touch with Illinois Jewish leaders and urged “everyone to stand together in unity during this time.”
A UPS truck that had been stopped in Brooklyn for a suspected explosive device was cleared following an investigation, Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, said in an email.