PRESIDENT Barack Obama declared yesterday that authorities had uncovered a “credible terrorist threat” against the United States following the overseas discovery of US-bound packages containing explosives aboard cargo jets. Obama said both had been addressed to Jewish organisations in the Chicago area.
The disclosures triggered a worldwide alert amid fears that al-Qaida was attempting to carry out fresh terror attacks.
The events “underscore the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism,” the president said.
The packages both originated in Yemen, but Obama did not explicitly assign blame to al-Qaida, which is active in the Arab nation and long has made clear its goal of attacking the US.
The events unfolded four days before national elections in which discussion of terrorism has played almost no role.
Obama stepped to the podium in the hours after officials disclosed that authorities in Dubai intercepted an explosive device bound for a Chicago-area Jewish institution. The second package was aboard a plane searched in England, and officials said it contained a printer toner cartridge with wires and powder.
That second package was aboard a plane in East Midlands, north of London.
Obama did not identify any institution that had been targeted.
Several other cargo planes at airports along the Eastern Seaboard of the US also were searched, and officials said no explosives were found.
An Emirates Airlines passenger jet carrying cargo from Yemen was escorted from the Canadian border to New York City by two military fighter jets, US officials said. They said it was a precautionary action.
An FBI spokesman in Chicago, Ross Rice, said both suspicious packages had been sent from the same address in Yemen.
The president refrained from assigning blame to Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, but officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were increasingly certain that was the source.
The same group was responsible for the attempted bombing of a US-bound airliner last Christmas.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation.
One official said intelligence personnel had been monitoring a suspected plot for days. The packages in England and Dubai were discovered late on Thursday after a foreign intelligence service picked up information related to Yemen and passed it on to the US, this official said.
US intelligence officials warned last month that terrorists hoped to send chemical and biological materials as part of an attack on America and other Western countries using the mail.
The alert came in a September 23 bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by The Associated Press.
Yemeni officials said they had launched a terrorism investigation, and Scotland Yard said its investigators were testing a number of additional items seized from the plane in East Midlands.
US authorities conducted searches of aircraft in Philadelphia, Newark, NJ, and New York City. Local officials said all of the suspicious items and planes searched had been given the all-clear. That was before the plane escorted by fighter jets landed in New York.
Since the failed Christmas bombing of a Detroit -bound airliner, Yemen has been a focus for US counter -terrorism officials. Before that, the US regarded al-Qaida’s Yemen branch as primarily a threat to that region.
The Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has since become a leading source of terrorist propaganda and recruiting. Authorities believe about 300 al-Qaida members or cells operate in Yemen.
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