Monday, November 01, 2010
UPS Cargo Bomb Plot Is More Sophisticated Al Qaeda Attack
Cargo plane bomb plot: Cobra review 'could lead to new security measures' The al-Qaeda parcel bomb plot could leave passengers facing a raft of safeguards as the Government undertakes a new review of security on passenger jets. By Gordon Rayner, Duncan Gardham and Andrew Hough Published: 9:30AM GMT 01 Nov 2010 Previous1 of 8 ImagesNext Airport security official uses sniffer dog to search for food in luggage of incoming passengers. Industry figures fear new wave of measures. Photo: REUTERS A man undergoes a security the airport: it could lead to more stringent checks. Photo: AP A security officer checks luggage, while others view x-ray check results: the government is reviewing security. Photo: AP Police and investigators look at what remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie, Scotland Photo: AP The devices contained a highly explosive combination of PETN (Pentaerythritol tetranitrate) and lead azide. The packages travelled on a Qatar airways flight. Photo: ALAMY Women protest outside the university in Sana'a where Hanan al Samawi is studying medicine Photo: AFP/GETTY US and British security officials believe Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born figurehead of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was behind the foiled attack Both bombs found last week were transported in the hold of passenger flights, suggesting that the terrorists were targeting tourists and other travellers, rather than simply trying to bring down cargo planes, as had previously been thought. David Cameron is today chairing a crisis meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency planning committee, to discuss the plot and what implications it could have on air transport. Related Articles Al-Qaeda plot: passengers face 'ludicrous' safeguards Passengers at risk as cargo not X-rayed Sir David Richards: Afghanistan cannot 'become new Yemen' Profile of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri Cargo plane bomb plot in pictures Telegraph's terror coverage in full Industry figures fear it could lead to a new, and unneccesary, overhaul of airport security after investigators concluded that the terrorists had designed a package to blow up passenger jets in a Lockerbie-style terrorist outrage. Ministers and officials are expected to discuss tougher checks on freight. The review could lead air passengers to be subjected to "ludicrous" new security measures, the boss of budget airline Ryanair. Michael O'Leary, the airline's chief executive, said authorities might now make travel "even more uncomfortable and tedious" for travellers. The device found at East Midlands airport on Friday had left Yemen on a passenger aircraft, The Daily Telegraph has learnt, before it was switched to a UPS cargo plane. The second device, found in Dubai, was carried on two Qatar Airways passenger flights before it was intercepted. Sources close to the investigation in Yemen said because there were no scheduled cargo flights out of the country it was likely the terrorists knew the bombs would be loaded on to passenger planes for at least part of their journey. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, also admitted it was possible that the US-bound bomb found at East Midlands could have detonated over Britain if it had not been found, because of the unpredictability of freight routes. In further developments: * A woman was being hunted in Yemen after posting the bombs, using an identity stolen from a student. * Investigators in Yemen said they were examining 26 other suspect packages. * British police faced criticism from the US over their failure to find the East Midlands device during their initial search. * Downing Street was forced to defend David Cameron’s decision to say nothing about the bomb plot for more than 24 hours. * The airline pilots’ union said it had been warning for years of cargo being a weak link in air travel that could be exploited by terrorists. * A former head of security at airport operator BAA, Norman Shanks, said checks on freight were not as stringent than those on passengers. The two bombs, concealed inside computer printers, were virtually impossible to detect by X-ray screening because they contained an odourless explosive and used timers that would have looked like part of the printers’ electronics. They were designed to explode in mid-air and would have been as capable of bringing down an aircraft as the device that blew up PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people. More than half of all freight to the US is carried on passenger flights and Lord Carlisle of Berriew, the former government adviser on terrorism, said there was every chance a parcel bomb could end up on a passenger plane. “If you put a parcel into UPS, you have no way of knowing what flight it is going to go on,” he said. “It could end up on a passenger flight.” One of the bombs went to Dubai via Doha in Qatar on a passenger aircraft. The device that was found at East Midlands airport left the Yemeni capital of Sana’a on a passenger aircraft, which is also thought to have stopped at Doha, before it travelled to Cologne in Germany and Britain in cargo planes. Mrs May said: “What became clear overnight on Friday and into Saturday was that it was indeed a viable device and could have exploded. “It could have exploded on the aircraft, and it could have exploded when the aircraft was in mid air. Had that happened it could have brought the aircraft down.” Mrs May said it was “difficult” to say whether the explosion would have happened over Britain or America. “With these freight flights sometimes the routing can change at the last moment so it is difficult for those who are planning the detonation to know exactly where — if it is detonated to a time, for example — the aircraft will be,” she added After investigators in Yemen confirmed that they were examining 26 other packages, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, said “it would be very imprudent … to presume that there are no other [bombs]". Mr Brennan described the bombs as “sophisticated”, adding: “They were self-contained. They were able to be detonated at a time of the terrorists’ choosing.” He said the plot “bears the hallmark” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist organisation’s Yemeni-based operation, whose leaders include Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born preacher. The most likely bomb maker is said to be Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who made the device used in the foiled Christmas airline attack over Detroit. The bombs, which were addressed to two synagogues in Chicago, contained the contact details of a 22-year-old computing student, Hannan al-Samawi, who was arrested on Saturday night. However, investigators released her at the weekend and said they were now seeking another woman who it was thought had posted the devices using Miss al-Samawi’s personal details. Intelligence that foiled the plot may have come from Jabir Jubran al-Fayfi, a former leading member of AQAP, who surrendered to the Saudi authorities last month. In light of the plot, the US National Transportation Safety Board is re-examining the wreckage of a UPS cargo jet that crashed in Dubai in September, although sources in Dubai said there was no evidence of an explosion. American officials expressed concern at the fact that the bomb at East Midlands was discovered only during a second police search. David Cameron said the Government would “take whatever steps are necessary” to keep British people safe, but Downing Street was forced on to the defensive after the Prime Minister took until 6pm on Saturday – 26 hours after he was first briefed on the incident – to make a public statement. It was left to Mr Obama, and later Mrs May, to break the news that viable devices had been found. Sources said Mr Cameron “wanted ministers to take the lead”. Balpa, the pilots’ union, said it had warned for years of the threat from cargo, suggesting that the focus on checking passengers and their luggage “left the door open” for attacks by other means. Mr Shanks, now an aviation consultant, called for a fundamental review of security. "We're looking at introducing the explosive detection systems that we currently use for passengers' baggage which goes into the hold," he told the BBC. "Now this really can't be introduced for every package, but it could be used for packages coming from areas where there is a known risk."