As reported by CNN, suspicious packages were found in at least two locations abroad that were bound for the United States. President Obama said in a statement today that they “apparently contain explosive material.” He called the discovery “a credible threat against our country.”
The packages led to increased searches of cargo planes and trucks in several US cities, said law enforcement sources with detailed knowledge of the investigation.
US officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, commonly referred to as AQAP, is behind the incident.
Obama confirmed that the packages originated in Yemen – the stronghold of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The suspicious package from Yemen had wires and a circuit board, a law enforcement source said.”We also know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula … continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies,” he said during a press briefing
on the incident.
One suspicious package, found in the United Kingdom, contained a “manipulated” toner cartridge and had white powder on it as well as wires and a circuit board, a law enforcement source said. A similar package was discovered in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, the source said. The UAE General Authority of Civil Aviation issued a statement saying the package was to be shipped on a FedEx cargo plane.
Both packages were bound for the United States, “specifically two places of Jewish worship in Chicago,” Obama said.
“Initial examination of those packages has determined they do apparently contain explosive material,” he said.
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, who was the first to brief Obama on the potential threat Thursday night, said that “the materials that were found and the device that was discovered were intended to do harm.”
Brennan, while declining to provide specifics, also said intelligence officials were specifically looking for such suspicious packages when the first discovery – the package in the United Kingdom – was made.
After the packages were found Thursday night and Friday morning, authorities were tracking about 13 other packages shipped from Yemen, a law enforcement source said. Some of them had been found and an investigation of those had not indicated they are a threat, the source said.
There is no specific intelligence indicating the other packages are a threat or that they are in the United States, the source said, but authorities want to check them as a precaution.
A Yemeni diplomat in Washington said his government has opened a full-scale investigation into the incident but it was too early to speculate or reach any conclusions.
Investigators were looking for a “possible nexus to terrorism,” a US official said.
“We are taking this very seriously,” the official said.
The plot could be a dry run to test Western security, another official told CNN.
Brennan, however, urged caution on that theory saying, “A traditional dry run is something that you would not necessarily use with explosive materials. That said, I don’t know yet what exactly the intent was at this point.”
The Department of Homeland Security said it “had taken a number of steps to enhance security,” including “heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports.”
“Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others,” the department said in a statement. “As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement.”
Some Jewish religious leaders in Chicago were alerted to the potential threat Friday, said Linda Haase, spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
“We were notified about this earlier this morning,” she said. “We are taking appropriate precautions and we are advising local synagogues to do the same.”
Lucille Price, a receptionist at Anshe Emet Synagogue, said Chicago police made them aware of the reports and asked them to keep an eye out for suspicious packages among any deliveries that arrived Friday.
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, said that if synagogues were indeed the intended recipients of the packages, “this is just another indication of the dangerous world we live in where Jews are the principle target.”
But congregation leaders at two prominent Chicago synagogues, Temple Sholom and Chicago Sinai Congregation, told CNN they were not made aware of any attempts to ship bombs or hazardous material to them.
In the United Kingdom, police were investigating the suspicious package at a freight distribution center at East Midlands Airport, about 100 miles north of London, said airport spokesman Russell Craig. U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said the package, which originated in Yemen and was addressed to a U.S. destination, was discovered during a search of a cargo flight. The package is being examined, she said.
May sought to assure Britons that “safety and security of the UK” is her top priority.
“We are urgently considering what steps need to be put in place regarding security of freight originating from Yemen,” she said. “For security reasons there are currently no direct flights from Yemen to the UK.”
She added that “at this stage there is nothing to suggest that any location in the UK was being targeted.”
Meanwhile, US authorities seemed most focused on inspecting cargo planes.
Investigators examined two UPS planes that landed at Philadelphia International Airport and another at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, said Mike Mangeot, a UPS spokesman. Authorities later gave the “all-clear” at the airport in Newark, US and British officials said.
A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said six packages from Yemen were found aboard the two UPS planes in Philadelphia. Hazardous material teams were using mobile equipment to check for biological, radioactive and chemical material as well as explosives, the source said.
One plane was parked in a remote area of the airport, by Gate 11. The other was near the UPS terminal, which is far from the passenger terminal.
The Transportation and Security Administration said authorities acted “out of an abundance of caution.”
UPS said it is cooperating with authorities, and its shipment is being removed from the aircraft.