(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Yemen-based al-Qaida group is claiming responsibility for the international mail bomb plot uncovered late last week as well as the crash of a United Parcel Service cargo plane in September.
A week after authorities intercepted packages in Dubai and Britain that were bound for the US, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula issued a message Friday saying it will continue to strike American and Western interests. They specifically said they would target civilian and cargo aircraft.
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US officials have said all week that there were strong indications the plot originated with AQAP, a terror group that has been gathering strength and increasingly triggering attacks on Western targets.
Authorities have said the September UPS crash was caused by an onboard fire, but investigators are taking another look at the incident.
US intelligence experts will be examining the message from AQAP to try to verify its authenticity, said a US intelligence official, adding that they are not surprised to see this claim now.
On Friday, a US counterterrorism official separately said the Yemen group remains a serious threat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
A security official in the UAE familiar with the investigations into the Sept. 3 crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai and the mail bombs plot told The Associated Press Friday that there is no change in earlier findings that the UPS crash in September was likely caused by an onboard fire and not by an explosive device.
There was no explosion, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under standing UAE rules on disclosing security-related information.
A UPS spokesman, Norman Black, said his company had "no independent knowledge of this claim by al-Qaida," and noted that both UAE officials and US National Transportation Safety Board officials have so far ruled out the possibility of a bomb as cause in the crash.
According to an AP translation of the terror group's statement, AQAP said that its "advanced explosives give us the opportunity to detonate (planes) in the air or after they have reached their final target, and they are designed to bypass all detection devices."
Both mail bombs were hidden inside computer printers and wired to detonators that used cell-phone technology and packed powdered PETN, a potent industrial explosive.
"We have struck three blows at your airplanes in a single year. And God willing, we will continue to strike our blows against American interests and the interests of America's allies," the terror group said.
The AQAP message also directed a warning to Saudi Arabia, which was instrumental in passing along the key tip that led to the discovery of the bombs: "These explosives were directed at Jewish Zionist temples, and you intervened to protect them with your treason. God's curse on the oppressors."
The claim was also translated by private SITE Intelligence Group. According to SITE, the message was posted on jihadist forums at 2:24 p.m. EDT (1824 GMT).
"AQAP continues to probe for weaknesses in our ability to disrupt, detect or stop their operations," said Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican who serves on the House intelligence terrorism subcommittee.
He expressed little surprise at the claim, saying:
"They are agile and determined. So must we be."