Cargo Planes, Trucks Eyed in Terrorism Plot

By | October 29, 2010

This post will be updated as new information comes in.

Friday brought a torrent of activity to UPS and international security officials.  A UPS plane in Newark, NJ and two at the airport in  Philadelphia, PA were being held due to suspicious packages and possible involvement in a Yemen terror plot.  Several packages suspected of containing radiological materials have been removed from those planes.  The crew members tested negative for radioactive material exposure, but the event  led to a worldwide ‘abundance of caution’ creating bomb scares throughout the United States.

15 total packages from Yemen were being sought on Friday for examination by United States counter-terrorism officials.  An additional 26 were being sought as of Saturday morning.  Fragmented reports hinted that these packages could have been part of an Al Qaeda “dry run” to test the vulnerability of cargo planes.  Homeland Security adviser John Brennan said the packages on cargo planes “could have done harm”, but had been “made inert” which indicates more than a dry run.  White House officials have continued to to press that this was a real attack because the packages were designed to do harm and contained explosives.  White House officials stated that two of the packages held PETN, the same material used by the Christmas Day and ShoeBomber plots.  AP had an anonymous source earlier in the day that stated that the package confiscated in Dubai contained explosives, but the location of the second explosive package has not yet been confirmed.

While Dubai appears to have been the trigger for the counter-terrorist reactions, the device found in England was one of the first indications of a real threat. A BBC report states that at 3:28am Friday morning a suspicious package was found in a central England UPS distribution center located at the East Midlands airport. The report stated  that the device found in England was not a bomb, but ‘potentially sinister’.  The language with which the device was characterized started the ‘dry run’ theories.  That device has sense gone to a laboratory for examination. CNN provided an image of the device.  Another CNN report suggested that the explosives in these devices may be up to twice as potent as that used by the underwear bomber:

Two suspicious packages found abroad that were bound for Jewish organizations in the United States contained a massive amount of explosive material that — had the suspected terror plot not been thwarted — would have triggered a powerful blast, a source close to the investigation said Friday..

..By comparison, the source said the two devices found Friday contained multiple times more PETN.

And of course, the report contained our favorite phrase of the day:

The TSA said authorities acted “out of an abundance of caution.”

No official statement has been made as to those behind the plot, but a report from Guardian.co.uk now states that U.S. officials believe that the mastermind of the Cargo plane bomb plot is none other than the New Mexico born Islamic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.  As if to confirm the Guardian report, at a Friday afternoon press conference the President confirmed that the packages originated from Yemen and that at least one package found in the last 24 hours contained explosives.  Obama also hinted that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is connected, but he stopped short of directly blaming the organization.  The President asserted that the government will spare no effort in tracking down the exact source of the packages.

Many preventative actions have been taken as a result of Friday:

  • The Department of Homeland Security increased aviation security level to Orange (high), while leaving the Nation threat level at Yellow (elevated).
  • Fedex is now halting all shipments from Yemen.
  • East Midlands Airport’s freight area remains shut down

The Yemen bomb plot created a very wary environment where many false alarms were triggered:

  • Emerites Air flight #201 en route from Dubai to New York’s JFK airport landed safely (and on-time) while having been escorted by two F-15 fighter jets.  The reason for the escort was suspicion of a package from Yemen on the airplane.  The FBI’s investigation of the airplane’s cargo yielded no package from Yemen.
  • Six suspicious packages were removed from planes in Philadelphia and have been deemed ‘not a threat’, but planes remained on the ground for several hours
  • Plane in Newark, NJ was cleared on to its destination after the suspicious packages had been off-loaded to trucks.  This led to UPS trucks in Brooklyn and Queens, NY being stopped and searched.  No suspicious materials found.
  • Suspicious package had been  found near the courthouse in Portland, Maine  and was found to be no threat.
  • Suspected package on Market St. in front of Bank of America building in downtown San Fransisco now given “All Clear”
  • New York City police investigated UPS trucks in Brooklyn and Queens, NY.  NYPD has cleared the trucks and released them without incident.

Yemen authorities arrested Hanan al Samawi on Saturday under suspicion that the 22 year-old female computer science student had sent the packages containing the bombs.  According the NBC News, her lawyer says that Samawi is being setup and had nothing to do wit the terror plot.

Abdul Rahman Barman confirmed that al Samawi’s phone number was on the packages, but he said he believes it was used by some other entity, NBC News said. He also said al-Qaida does not leave obvious traces in its operations

On Sunday it was discovered that some of the devices were set to explode over Western cities, conflicting with reports that the devices were aimed at Chicago area religious institutions.

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