The Canadian Jewish Congress has issued a security alert to groups across the country after learning of two suspicious packages bound for Jewish organizations in the U.S.
Chief executive Bernie Farber says the warning has been sent out to synagogues and other Jewish organizations as a precaution.
He says the alert reminds groups of proper security procedures and urges them to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Farber says there have been no suspicious incidents in Canada so far.
Chicago Jewish institutions are also on alert for suspicious packages.
The notice comes a day after authorities seized two suspicious packages bound for Jewish groups in the Chicago area.
Both packages were mailed from Yemen, and at least one was confirmed to contain an explosive device.
White House Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan says the two explosive packages bound for the U.S. were intended to carry out an attack and could have done harm.
Brennan says the packages have been made inert and are no longer dangerous.
Brennan stopped short of linking the plot to Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch but said anyone who is associated with the group is a subject of concern.
The Yemeni government has expressed astonishment at reports linking it to two explosive packages found on cargo planes bound for the U.S.
In a statement distributed to journalists and appearing on the official website late Thursday, the government said there were no UPS cargo planes that had taken off from Yemen or any indirect or direct flights to British or American airports.
The statement added that the government was co-operating with the U.S., British and Emirati parties.
Canadian jets escort cargo from Yemen: NORAD
NORAD said two Canadian fighter jets were dispatched Friday to escort a commercial passenger jet carrying cargo from Yemen.
The Canadian planes escorted the passenger jet to the U.S. border where it was met by two American jets and escorted to New York City.
NORAD spokesman Maj. Brian Martin says it was a precautionary measure, but he refused to say how long the passenger jet was in Canadian airspace.
Authorities in Dubai intercepted an explosive device bound for a Chicago-area Jewish institution aboard a cargo jet, officials disclosed Friday, triggering a worldwide alert and fears that Al Qaeda was attempting to carry out fresh terror attacks.
A second package — like the first, shipped from Yemen — was discovered aboard a plane in England. It, too, was addressed to a Jewish organization in the Chicago area, although there was no immediate confirmation about its contents.
The plane escorted by Canadian jets landed shortly after 3:30 p.m. Passengers walked off the plane on two covered stairways and then onto the tarmac, dragging their luggage behind them. Several police cars surrounded the airliner.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the first plane — Emirates Airlines Flight 201 — was met at JFK by FBI and Port Authority police. He said the action was being taken solely because the plane was also carrying cargo from Yemen.
The plane, the Boeing 777, also called the “Triple Seven,” is a long-range, wide-bodied airliner that typically can seat about 300 passengers.
U.S. intelligence officials warned last month that terrorists want to mail chemical and biological materials as part of an attack against the country.
The Sept. 23 bulletin from the Homeland Security Department, obtained by The Associated Press, says the government has credible information that terrorists were interested in carrying out an attack on the U.S. and other Western countries using the mail.
Several other cargo planes at airports along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States also were searched, and officials said no explosives were found.
Obama addresses concerns
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to reporters Friday hours after details of the potentially Al Qaeda-linked plot emerged.
He said initial examination of two packages bound for the U.S. determined that they apparently contained explosive materials, and that the American public should be confident in the government’s counter terror efforts.
He also said Americans do not need to change travel plans because of the incident.
“The president directed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and to determine whether these threats are a part of any additional terrorist plotting,” the White House said in a statement.
An FBI spokesman in Chicago, Ross Rice, said both suspicious packages had been sent from the same address in Yemen.
U.S. officials said they were increasingly confident that the packages were part of a plot by Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, the same group responsible for an attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner last Christmas. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation.
Despite this, White House Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan stopped short of linking the plot to the group.
U.S. officials have confirmed the packages contained the same explosive as the Christmas attack.
Other officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the package found in England contained a printer toner cartridge with wires and powder. It was discovered aboard a plane in East Midlands, north of London.
One official said intelligence personnel had been monitoring a suspected plot for days. The packages in England and Dubai were discovered late Thursday after a foreign intelligence service picked up information related to Yemen and passed it on to the U.S., this official said.
Initial confirmation that the package discovered in Dubai contained explosives came from an official United Arab Emirates security source who likewise spoke only on condition of anonymity.
U.S. warned of threat last month
U.S. intelligence officials warned last month that terrorists hoped to mail chemical and biological materials as part of an attack on America and other Western countries using the mail. The alert came in a Sept. 23 bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by The Associated Press.
In the hours following the discoveries, 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.
U.S. authorities conducted searches of aircraft in Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and New York City. Local officials said all of the suspicious items and planes that were searched had been given the “all clear.” That was before the plane escorted by fighter jets landed in New York.
“As a precaution, DHS has taken a number of steps to enhance security,” the Homeland Security Department said in a statement. “Some of these security measures will be visible while others will not.”
One was — spectacularly so. Two U.S. fighter jets were dispatched to escort the Emirates Airlines flight, which landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport without incident.
UPS says it is immediately suspending shipments out of Yemen after authorities thwarted a terrorist attack against U.S. synagogues.
Since the failed Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, Yemen has been a focus for U.S. counterterrorism officials. Before that attack, the U.S. regarded Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as primarily a threat in the region, not to the United States.
The Yemen branch known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has since become a leading source of terrorist propaganda and recruiting. Authorities believe about 300 Al Qaeda members or cells operate in Yemen.
The Yemeni government has stepped up counterterrorism operations, with help from the U.S. military and intelligence officials. Mohammed Shayba, general-director of the state airline’s cargo department, said the government is conducting an investigation.
“Those in charge are in constant meetings and they are investigating and taking the issue seriously,” he told The Associated Press.
With files from The Canadian Press.