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2 suspicious packages contained explosives

October 29, 2010 12:39:35 AM PDT
Authorities on three continents thwarted multiple terrorist attacks aimed at the United States from Yemen on Friday, seizing two explosive packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues and packed aboard cargo jets. But it was not clear if the full scope of the plot has been discovered.

President Barack Obama warns that the packages represent a "credible terrorist threat." U.S. officials said they were increasingly confident that al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, the group responsible for the failed Detroit airliner bombing last Christmas, was responsible.

"We also know that al-Qaeda in Arabian peninsula continues, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens and our friends and allies," said Obama in a news conference Friday in response to the incidents.

"Clearly from the initial observations, the initial analysis that's done, that the materials that were found and the device that was uncovered was intended to do harm," said White House Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan.

"We just want to make sure that we are going to whatever lengths we need to to ensure the safety and security of air travel at this point," said Brennan.

One device was the size of a bread box with a circuit card attached to a toner cartridge and wires. Officials believe it also contained PETN, material that was used by the shoe bomber Richard Reed and in last year's Christmas Day bombing attack.

The president was notified of a potential terrorist threat on Thursday at 10:35 p.m., according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. It's still not clear if the full scope of the plot has been discovered.

Authorities are investigating a package containing explosive materials intercepted in Dubai on its way from Yemen and another package in England. U.S. officials say they are increasingly confident that the packages were part of a plot by Yemen's al-Qaeda branch.

Brennan says the packages have been made inert and are no longer dangerous.

Brennan stopped short of linking the plot to al-Qaida's Yemen branch but said anyone who is associated with the group is a subject of concern.

Suspicious packages in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Queens were investigated on Friday morning as authorities worked to stop the potential bomb plot targeting the U.S. An official says authorities are investigating whether the suspicious packages were a dry run for a mail-bomb plot.

Fighter jets escorted an Emirates flight as it landed in New York from Dubai because it contained cargo that originated in Yemen. No explosives were found.

Fed Ex has now canceled all flights originating in Yemen and officials at the secret National Aviation Threat Center outside Washington, D.C. are tracking every package coming from Yemen.

The initial report involved two separate packages shipped from Sanaa, Yemen to Chicago, according to law enforcement officials. One of the packages was shipped by FedEx, the other by UPS, according to ABC News.

Officials said both packages were stopped midway on their trip to Chicago, one at the East Midlands cargo air field outside London and the other at the airport in Dubai.

The two packages were addressed to Chicago religious sites, Chicago FBI spokesman Ross Rise said. One was a synagogue, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

The package in England contained a toner cartridge with attached wires and powder. It was found during screening of cargo, prompting authorities to scour three planes and a truck in the United States on Friday, U.S. officials said.

The screening was initially believed to be routine, but Scotland Yard officials told ABC News the cargo was examined because of information received by British authorities.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Kristin Lee says the planes in Philadelphia and Newark were swept. The planes were moved away from terminal buildings while law enforcement officials investigated.

East Midlands Airport

  • A suspicious package was found at a distribution center at East Midlands Airport, promting the evacuation of the building. Shortly after 1 p.m. PT, Obama confirmed the package did contain explosive materials.
  • Earlier, police and emergency workers examined the package and lifted the security cordon by midmorning, but Leicestershire Constabulary later said officers were re-examining it "as a precaution."
  • Scotland Yard said its investigators were testing a number of items seized from the plane in East Midlands.
  • It was the only incident of this nature in the UK, according to ABC News.

Newark

  • According to WABC, a cargo plane in Newark, N.J., was searched and was cleared. The plane flew to UPS' main hub in Louisville, Ky., on its usual route.
  • According to an AP source, the FBI and a bomb squad checked two packages there and gave the "all clear."

Philadelphia

  • Two Philadelphia planes belonging to UPS that had come from Cologne, Germany, and Paris were being investigated, according to a UPS spokesman.
  • A federal law enforcement official said nothing suspicious was found.

New York City

  • Police responded to reports of a possible explosive in a UPS truck at the Queensboro Bridge, top NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
  • New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that the package was tested for possible explosives and found not to be dangerous.
  • The package was an envelope that came from Yemen, appeared to contain bank receipts, and was addressed to the JP Morgan Chase bank in Brooklyn, Kelly said. The package arrived on a plane that landed at Kennedy Airport, the New York police commissioner said.

Dubai

  • According to FedEx, authorities confiscated a suspicious package at the company's facility in Dubai. "The shipment originated in Yemen. As an additional safety measure, FedEx has stopped accepting shipments from Yemen. The company is cooperating fully with authorities," said FedEx spokesman Maury Lane.
  • Shortly after 1 p.m., it was announced the package did contain explosive materials.

Sources say that the potential improvised explosives were shipped from Yemen through Birmingham, England, to the U.S. aboard planes.

U.S. officials say they are increasingly confident that the packages were part of a plot by Yemen's al-Qaida branch.

East Midlands Airport in England is believed to be a transshipment point in the plot in which devices were believed to be placed aboard cargo planes for shipment to targets in the U.S., according to ABC News. UPS has a facility there.

It is unknown who is behind the alleged plot. The original intelligence that tipped authorities to the plot came from foreign sources, ABC News has learned.

The Department of Homeland Security released the following statement regarding the incident:

"As a precaution, DHS has taken a number of steps to enhance security. Some of these security measures will be visible while others will not. The public may recognize specific enhancements including heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others. As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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