Brice Hortefeux did not say where he got the information about the timing, although U.S. and European intelligence officials have been exchanging information on the plot. The French Interior Ministry would not elaborate on Hortefeux's comment. In Britain, police would not comment, and investigators in the United States said they could not immediately confirm the 17-minute figure.
The bombs were sent by cargo plane from Yemen to Chicago, but never got there.
When investigators pulled the packages off cargo planes in England and the Dubai Friday, they found the bombs wired to cell phones and hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers. The communication cards had been removed and the phones could not receive calls, officials said, making it likely the terrorists intended the alarm or timer functions to detonate the bombs, U.S. officials have said.
Intelligence officials in the U.S. said Wednesday that each bomb was attached to a syringe containing lead azide, a chemical initiator that would have detonated PETN explosives packed into each printer cartridge. Both PETN and a syringe were used in the failed bombing last Christmas of a Detroit-bound airliner.
Investigators have centered on the Yemeni al-Qaida faction's top bomb maker, who had previously designed a bomb that failed to go off on a crowded U.S.-bound passenger jetliner last Christmas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.