Saturday, October 30, 2010

Intercepted Cargo Explosives Sufficient To Blow Up Airliners

Yesterday's investigations at several airports around the world involving packages included one package that that had enough explosives to blow up an airliner. British authorities said that the explosives, comprised of PETN, discovered at East Midlands Airport would have been sufficient to take out an airplane.
“I can confirm the device was viable and could have exploded,” said the British home secretary, Theresa May. “The target may have been an aircraft and had it detonated the aircraft could have been brought down.”

A day after two packages containing explosives addressed to synagogues in Chicago were discovered, one in Britain and the other in Dubai, setting off a broad terror alert, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, said that the plot “has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.” Officials on three continents, meanwhile, continued to search for other potentially dangerous packages shipped from Yemen.

It was not yet clear whether the packages were intended for the synagogues or whether the intent was to cause mass destruction in the air.

“We do not believe that the perpetrators of the attack would have known the location of the device when it was planned to explode,” Ms. May said, speaking to reporters after leading a meeting of the British government’s Cobra committee, which oversees Britain’s response to terrorist threats.

On Friday, President Obama said that the explosives represented a “credible terrorist threat” to the United States, and in television interviews on Saturday morning, Ms. Napolitano went a step further.

“I think we would agree with that, that it does contain all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda and in particular Al Qaeda A.P.,” she said, referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
While no explosives were found aboard several planes that were searched in Newark and Philadelphia, the discoveries of the devices aboard plane cargoes in the UK and Dubai raised alert levels significantly.

The devices were quite sophisticated, according to reports in the Guardian. They were designed to explode in the air, although one has to wonder why that didn't happen. What's scary is that initial investigations by British authorities by bomb sniffing dogs didn't determine that the devices were explosive in origin.
Both devices, one discovered in the hold of a plane that landed at East Midlands airport after flying from Cologne, the other in a plane in Dubai, were described as "extremely professional" by intelligence officials.

One of the devices was linked to a mobile phone, while the other was attached to a timer. The Observer understands that the East Midlands device was so sophisticated an initial examination by forensics experts initially suggested it did not contain explosives.

"Even when it was examined, the sniffer dogs couldn't detect it," a security source said. "It was only when they [forensics experts] had a second look at it they realised what it was."

It has emerged the devices were discovered only after a tip-off from Saudi intelligence.
Moreover, one has to consider why the feds were warning that the packages could be headed to Chicago area synagogues. On that point, the articles aren't clear, but I surmise that it may have been to send a dual message. One was that Chicago is the hometown of President Obama, and two was that Jews remain a top terror target for al Qaeda.

Yemeni authorities are busy playing damage control and trying to show that they are taking terrorism emanating from their country more seriously than they have. Mind you that Yemen has been a nexus from which al Qaeda has operated since the terror organization was founded. Its border with Saudi Arabia is as porous as it gets and terror groups operate with impunity. So, take the fact that the Yemeni government has arrested two women in connection with the plot with a grain of salt.

The Saudis know that the border is porous and that al Qaeda poses a threat to the Saudi regime as much as anyone else. The Yemeni government isn't in a great position to deal with al Qaeda or other terror organizations because it can barely control its own territory.

Meanwhile, we've got dueling memes about the nature of the terror threat. On the one hand, you've got depictions of the explosives as sophisticated, while others claim that this signals that the al Qaeda franchise is amateurish.

That these explosives were discovered and thwarted before they could detonate was a combination of luck and good timing. The damage could have been significant had the explosives detonated the planes over urban areas.

Meanwhile, news outlets that should know better are claiming that Yemen is the next front in the war on al Qaeda. BZZZZ. Wrong. Yemen has always been a front in the war on al Qaeda. It's just one that hasn't received much attention since after the USS Cole bombing and ongoing piracy off the Horn of Africa that mostly emanates from Somalia. It's always been a front in the war, just that many people don't realize it.

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