'Yemen bomb disarmed just 17 min. before exploding'

Explosives were wired to cell phones as detonation device, say US officials; Germany: 300-400 grams of PETN in each bomb.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 4, 2010 14:25
2 minute read.
This image provided by CBS News shows a printer to

Yemen Bomb 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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PARIS — One of two mail bombs sent from Yemen last week was disarmed just 17 minutes before it was set to go off, the French interior minister said Thursday.

Brice Hortefeux provided no other details in an interview on France's state-run France-2 television, or say where he got the information about the timing.

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"One of the packages was defused only 17 minutes before the moment that it was set to explode," he said.

The White House says it has no information that would confirm the French government report.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday the question of when the bombs were to go off is still under investigation and there is no information confirming such a close call.

When investigators pulled the Chicago-bound packages off cargo planes in England and the United Arab Emirates 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, US officials have said.

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They also 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 US-bound passenger jetliner last Christmas.

This time, authorities believe that master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri packed four times as much explosives into the bombs hidden last week on flights from Yemen. The two bombs contained 300 and 400 grams of the industrial explosive PETN, according to a German security official, who briefed reporters Monday in Berlin on condition of anonymity in line with department guidelines.

By comparison, the bomb stuffed into a terrorist suspect's underwear on the Detroit-bound plane last Christmas contained about 80 grams.

One of the explosive devices found inside a shipped printer cartridge in Dubai had flown on two airlines before it was seized, first on a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 jet to Doha and then on an as-yet-undisclosed flight from Doha to Dubai. The number of passengers on the flights were unknown, but the first flight had a 144-seat capacity and the second would have moved on one of a variety of planes with seating capacities ranging from 144 to 335.

The packages were addressed to two Chicago-area synagogues. Because the addresses were out of date and the names on the packages included references to the Crusades — the 200-year wars waged by Christians largely against Muslims — officials do not believe the synagogues were the targets.

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