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Suspicion Falls On Al-Qaeda In Yemen Mail-Bombing Plot


Law enforcement officials and bomb-squad officers surround a UPS cargo plane as it and its contents are searched in Newark on October 29.

Law enforcement officials and bomb-squad officers surround a UPS cargo plane as it and its contents are searched in Newark on October 29.

Yemen has launched a search for Al-Qaeda militants thought to be behind a plot to bomb Jewish targets in the United States.

Yemeni authorities today opened a probe and set up checkpoints across the capital, Sanaa, after explosives were found in air parcels sent from Yemen to the United States.

Authorities in Dubai intercepted the first explosive device in a package at a facility owned by the shipping company FedEx. It was addressed to a Jewish synagogue in Chicago.

The second package was discovered aboard a United Parcel Service (UPS) cargo plane at an airport in East Midlands, north of London. Officials said it contained a printer toner cartridge with wires and powder.

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed today that the suspect package found at East Midlands Airport did contain explosive material, rejecting initial reports that the parcels did not contain explosives and were part of a practice run for future attempts to carry out a terrorist attack.

"The suspect package originated in Yemen. It was removed for examination by forensic experts," May said. "I can say at this stage that it did contain explosive material, but it is not yet clear whether it was a viable explosive device."

She said forensic work continued on the items seized from the plane. The British government crisis committee known as Cobra, she added, would meet again today to discuss its response to the incident.

In the United States, President Barack Obama said the two packages represented a "credible terrorist threat." Their discovery, he added, underscored "the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism."

'Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula'

Obama's adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, said suspicion fell on Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The group, thought to include Yemenis and Saudis, claimed responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas Day last year.

Brennan said the explosives "were in a form that was designed to try to carry out some type of attack," rejecting initial reports that the packages did not contain explosives and were part of a practice run for future attempts to carry out a terrorist attack.

Police in Dubai today said the explosives found in the parcels bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda.

Police said preliminary tests indicated the packages contained the powerful industrial explosive PETN, the same chemical used in the attempted Christmas attack.

Obama, too, confirmed the packages contained explosive material and noted that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was known to be plotting further attacks against the United States and its allies.

"I have also directed that we spare no effort in investigating the origins of these suspicious packages and their connection to any additional terrorist plotting," Obama said.

Obama said the packages' discovery underscored "the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism."

'Abundance Of Caution'

News of the suspicious packages first emerged during the late morning on October 29 and prompted U.S. officials to investigate several cargo planes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Transportation Security Administration said they were searched "out of an abundance of caution."

A cargo truck in New York City was also searched before local officials said all suspect items and planes had been given the "all clear." U.S. authorities also told Jewish leaders in Chicago of a threat against synagogues in the city.

Britain's Scotland Yard said its investigators were examining a number of items seized from the plane in East Midlands.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was increasing cargo screening and security at airports. FedEx and UPS announced the suspension of all shipments from Yemen.

More tense moments came when an Emirates Airlines passenger jet carrying cargo from Yemen was escorted from the Canadian border to New York City's John F. Kennedy airport by two U.S. fighter jets.

Officials said the plane was escorted as a precautionary action.

Searches of cargo planes in Philadelphia, Newark, and New York City have yielded no further explosives.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been increasingly regarded in the past year as an epicenter of radical Islamic terrorism.

Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has stepped up attacks on Yemeni and Western targets since claiming responsibility for the failed airline bombing last Christmas.

compiled from agency reports
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