One of two powerful bombs mailed from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues traveled on passenger flights within the Middle East, a Qatar Airways spokesman said Sunday. The US said the plot bears the hallmarks of al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen and has vowed to destroy the group.
The airline spokesman said a package containing explosives hidden in a printer cartridge arrived in Qatar Airways' hub in the capital Doha on a flights from Yemen — an Airbus A320 which can carry up to 144 passengers.
Netanyahu: We stand before a rising wave of terror
Inside the head of a Yemenite al-Qaida mastermind
It was then shipped on a separate Qatar Airways plane to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where it was discovered by authorities late Thursday or early Friday. A second, similar package turned up in England on Friday.
The airline spokesman disclosed the information on condition of anonymity in line with the company's standing policies on conversations with the media.
The plot was the latest to expose persistent security gaps in international air travel and cargo shipping nearly a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and showed extremists appear to be probing those vulnerabilities.
"The security gap is now for things leaving Yemen," said Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. "On the Yemeni side, they'll have a lot to answer for to regain their credibility."
Yemeni authorities have taken several people into custody for questioning, including a young student whose telephone number was used to register the packages. She has since been conditionally released into her father's custody.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser John Brennan said authorities "have to presume" there might be more potential mail bombs like the ones pulled from planes in England and the United Arab Emirates.
US inspectors were heading to Yemen to monitor cargo security practices
and pinpoint holes in the system. An internal report, obtained by The
Associated Press, said the team of six inspectors from the
Transportation Security Administration will give Yemeni officials
recommendations and training to improve cargo security.
"We're trying to get a better handle on what else may be out there,"
Brennan told NBC's "Meet the Press" as he made the rounds of the Sunday
talk shows. "We're trying to understand better what we may be facing."
Brennan noted that because of the continuing threat, the world's largest
package delivery companies — FedEx and UPS — have suspended air freight
The explosives, addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, were pulled off
airplanes in England and the United Arab Emirates early Friday morning
after intelligence officials were tipped off about them, touching off a
tense search for other devices.
The package that was stopped in London was nearly caught when it passed
through the UPS hub in Cologne, Germany after police there received a
tip-off, said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere Sunday.
By the time German officials received the tip, however, the package was
already en route to Britain, and they had to alert their British
Germany has now stopped all package deliveries from Yemen.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he believes the device was
intended to detonate on the plane, while Home Secretary Theresa May said
the bomb was powerful enough to down the aircraft.
A US official and a British security consultant said Sunday that the
device in England nearly slipped past investigators even after they were
tipped off, suggesting it was sophisticated enough to escape notice.
Brennan, Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, called it "a very
sophisticated device, in terms of how it was constructed, how it was
concealed" and said it was a viable device.
"They were self-contained. They were able to be detonated at a time of
the terrorists' choosing," Brennan said, adding that officials are
trying to determine whether the planes or the synagogues were the
Qatar Airways said the explosives could not have been detected by X-ray
or bomb-sniffing dogs and would not have been discovered without the
Al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen is suspected of mailing the bombs. The
group was behind a failed bombing on a Detroit-bound airliner last
Christmas that bore some of the same hallmarks as this plot.
Yemeni police late on Sunday released Hanan al-Samawi, 22, a female
computer engineering student suspected of mailing the packages. She was
detained Saturday after her telephone number appeared on one of the
Police said the release was conditional and she could still be taken in for further questioning.
According to a Yemeni security official, at least five other suspects
have been arrested and interrogated since Saturday over who might be
behind the mail bombs and a number of employees of the shipping
companies, including two from FedEx, are being investigated.
Yemen is also asking for more information from Saudi Arabia, which the US said provided the tip-off which thwarted the bombing.
Yemeni officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation unfolding on three continents.
US officials said suspects in the plot include the bomb-maker suspected
of designing the explosive used in the failed Christmas airliner
bombing. The bombmaker is a key operative in al-Qaida's offshoot in
Yemen, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
"They are a dangerous group," Brennan said of al-Qaida in Yemen "They
are a determined group. They are still at war with us and we are very
much at war with them."
He said the US "will destroy that organization as we are going to destroy the rest of al-Qaida."
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula took responsibility for the failed
bomb last Christmas that used PETN, an industrial explosive that was
also in the mail bombs found Friday.
Brennan said forensic analysis indicates that this bomb-maker also
constructed the devices used in the failed bombing on a Detroit-bound
airliner last Christmas and the attack on Saudi Arabia's
counter-terrorism chief last year, Brennan said.
US intelligence officials believe the suspected bomb-maker is a Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, living in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia said Asiri recruited his brother for a suicide attack
against the counter-terrorism chief, attaching the bomb to his groin or
placing it inside his body. The official survived.
Brennan said the person who assembled these devices is "clearly somebody
who has a fair amount of training and experience and we need to find
him and we need to bring him to justice."
The US was already on the lookout for a mail bomb plot after learning
terrorists in Yemen were interested in "exploring an operation involving
cargo planes," a US counter-terrorism official said.
US authorities then acted quickly after receiving a tip "that suspicious
packages may be en route to the US" — specifically Chicago — the
official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss
Brennan also said that in light of the bombs found Friday, the National
Transportation Safety Board and terrorism investigators were
re-examining the UPS cargo jet that crashed in Dubai in September.
Investigators in the United Arab Emirates said Sunday there was no evidence that an explosion caused that crash.