Monday 23 April 2018

Terror plot bombs could have 'downed' aircraft

Wesley Johnson in London

The bombs used in the cargo plane terror plot were at least 50 times more powerful than would be needed to blow a hole in an aircraft fuselage, officials said yesterday

Experts in Germany said the bombs at East Midlands Airport and in Dubai contained at least 300g of the powerful explosive PETN as British Home Secretary Theresa May announced a review of all air freight security.

UK explosives expert Sidney Alford told CNN last year that just 6g of PETN would be enough to punch a hole into a metal plate twice the thickness of an aircraft fuselage.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired an hour-long meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra today, said every possible step must be taken "to work with our partners in the Arab world to cut out the terrorist cancer that lurks in the Arabian Peninsula".

Mrs May told MPs both bombs originated in Yemen and were believed to be the work of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap).

"The devices were probably intended to detonate mid-air and to destroy the cargo aircraft on which they were being transported," she said.

"Had the device detonated we assess it could have succeeded in bringing down the aircraft."

While there was no information to suggest another attack of a similar type was imminent, the authorities were working "on the assumption that this organisation will wish to continue to find ways of also attacking targets further afield", Mrs May said.

Announcing the security review, she said all flights containing unaccompanied freight from Somalia will be suspended in the wake of the terror plot.

The suspension, which will come into force from midnight, was a "precautionary measure" based on "possible contact between al Qaida in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia, as well as concern about airport security in Mogadishu", Mrs May said. Flights of unaccompanied air freight from Yemen were suspended earlier this year.

Ink cartridges larger than 500g will also be banned from hand baggage on flights departing from the UK and also on cargo flights unless they originate from a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department for Transport, Mrs May said.The plot was a "stark reminder of the harm our enemies wish to inflict upon us", she added.

The bomb at East Midlands Airport was removed from a UPS aircraft by Leicestershire police officers shortly after 3.30am on Friday following a tip-off from Saudi intelligence.

But neither the prime minister nor the Home Office were told about what was happening until around lunchtime that day, Downing Street said. US President Barack Obama was kept "fully informed" since Thursday night, officials said.

Yemeni security officials said the tip-off came from a leading al-Qaida militant who turned himself in to Saudi authorities last month.

Irish Independent

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