Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cargo Bomb Plot Began In September With Dry Run

Intel officials and law enforcement now believe that al Qaeda carried out a dry run of its cargo/package bomb plot back in September before attempting to send bombs through cargo shipments to the US.
The shipments from Yemen to Chicago are reported to have contained literature and other materials, but no explosives.

The idea was to test how long it would take for the packages to reach their destination, US officials suspect.

Last week, two parcel bombs were found on cargo planes in the UK and Dubai.

The parcels - with powerful PETN explosives hidden inside printer toner cartridges - were shipped from Yemen's capital Sanaa through UPS and another US cargo firm, FedEx.

Both packages - which have now been made safe - were addressed to synagogues in the US city of Chicago.

Investigators have linked the "dry run" and last weekend's bombs to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The terrorists were able to discern the shipping pattern and timing based on tracking information provided by the companies. Several countries have stepped up security and are limiting shipment of toner cartridges in passenger baggage or are limiting flights and cargo from Yemen:
On Monday, Germany, France and Britain said they had banned cargo shipments from Yemen, following a similar move by the United States. Britain prohibited passengers from carrying printer cartridges aboard flights, and Germany halted passenger flights from Yemen as well. Many countries have stepped up cargo screening, but no additional bombs have been found.

In particular, the focus is on Yemen, which plays home to al Qaeda and firebrand Anwar al Awlaki, whose videos are frequently used as a recruitment tool. Yemen is finally treating al Qaeda's Anwar al Awlaki as the terrorist minion he repeatedly posts online.
Facing pressure to crackdown on terrorism following last week's international bomb scare, Yemen has charged a radical, U.S.-born Muslim cleric with attempting to kill foreigners and being a member of Al Qaeda.

The announcement to try Anwar al-Awlaki (who is already on a U.S. list of militants to assassinate) was made at the trial of another radical, Hisham Assem on Tuesday.

Assem is charged with a shooting and killing of a Frenchman at a local oil compound last month.

Al-Awlaki is said to be hiding in the mountains of Yemen with his family and friends. He was charged in absentia.
Yemen hasn't exactly been a willing partner in going after al Qaeda, and had to be pushed to make even this half-hearted attempt. Saudi Arabia and Yemen have had several border skirmishes in the past because of the porous border, but this latest move is slightly more than their usual lip service.

However, it shows that security against terror outfits like al Qaeda is only as good as the weakest link. Yemen is a weak link, and it's pitiful air security was such that bombs got onto passenger flights and then into the cargo manifests ultimately destined for the US.

That's got to change, and al Qaeda is continuing to adapt its tactics to what is available and possible. They will continue using failed states and border regions as safe havens, terror recruitment centers, and training centers.

Here's a bit of speculation on my part as to the tactic of bombing cargo planes. Al Qaeda has gone after hard targets like US Navy ships and softer targets like the US Embassies in Africa and then airlines and other modes of transportation. The attacks are as much about racking up a body count as they are about disrupting the economic system. The 9/11 attacks caused a major disruption of the economy in and around the New York City metro area and seriously affected airlines. Blowing up cargo planes would similarly affect the viability of sending cargo items and that could affect manufacturing, which is increasingly dependent on just-in-time manufacturing. If products get delayed because of extra screening and delays (or slower modes of transportation to avoid cargo screening delays), manufacturers will have to compensate with increased supplies on hand. Al Qaeda is not just attacking to blow up stuff, but to send a message about their ongoing opposition to our very way of life - and that includes our economic system.

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