Thursday 14 December 2017

US security chief warns of more al-Qa'ida mail bombs

Tim Christopher in Washington

US President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism adviser warned security chiefs last night to "presume" there will be more potential mail bombs like the ones pulled from planes in England and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The foiled plot "certainly bears the hallmark" of al-Qa'ida's Yemen branch, known as al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and the terrorist group was "still at war with us and we are very much at war with them", deputy US national security adviser John Brennan said yesterday.

"We're trying to get a better handle on what else may be out there," said Mr Brennan. "We're trying to understand better what we may be facing."

It also emerged last night that American intelligence officials believe the suspected bombmaker is a Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

Forensic analysis indicates that the same bombmaker also constructed the devices used in the failed bombing on a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas and the attack on Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism chief last year, Mr Brennan said. All three bombs contained the explosive PETN.

The person assembling 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," said Mr Brennan.

Mr Brennan added that the devices were able to go off "at a time of the terrorists' choosing -- including when a plane was in flight or when the packages reached their final destination. "They could have brought those planes down," he said.

Mr Brennan also noted that because of the continuing threat, the world's largest package delivery companies -- FedEx and UPS -- have suspended air freight from Yemen.

Cargo

"I think prudence tells us to make sure that we're doing everything possible to screen cargo that might be coming from that part of the world even more rigorously than we have. And we currently have put a hold on any cargo that is coming to the US that originated in Yemen," Mr Brennan added.

It also emerged yesterday that one of the two powerful bombs mailed from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues travelled on two passenger planes within the Middle East.

A spokesman for Qatar Airways said a package containing explosives hidden in a printer cartridge arrived in Qatar Airways' hub in Doha, Qatar, on one of the carrier's flights from the Yemeni capital Sana'a.

It was then shipped on a separate Qatar Airways plane to Dubai in the UAE, where it was discovered by authorities. A second, similar package turned up in at East Midlands airport in the UK on Friday.

Meanwhile, Yemen freed a woman yesterday who was being held on suspicion of involvement in the plot after her arrest sparked protests by her fellow students.

A family member and a government official said the woman, believed to be in her 20s, had been released.

"Another woman had used her name and ID. Authorities are looking for that woman," the government official said.

Yemeni police arrested the student after tracing her through a telephone number she had left with a cargo company.

Irish Independent

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