Freight jets the ‘Achilles’ heel’ in airline security

THE discovery of two bombs onboard cargo planes destined for the US highlights the gaps in airline security, say analysts.

In addition, it shows the increasing innovation of militants.

The bombs were expertly constructed and unusually sophisticated. The plot was further evidence that al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Yemen is steadily improving its abilities to strike on US soil.

US officials said evidence was mounting that the top leadership of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks.

Investigators said the bomb discovered at the Dubai airport was concealed in a desktop printer, with high explosives packed into a printer cartridge to avoid detection by scanners, it said.

“The wiring of the device indicates that this was done by professionals,” The New York Times quoted an official involved in the investigation as saying.

“It was set up so that if you scan it, all the printer components would look right.”

The bomb discovered in Britain was also hidden in a printer cartridge. “This is the first time time a terrorist group has used a US air freight company to transport a parcel containing explosives and a detonator,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, a global consultant on terror groups.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, security measures for passenger flights have been tightened, but the latest alert raised serious questions about regulations for freight.

“Cargo planes have always been the Achilles’ heel,” Chris Yates, security editor at Jane’s Aviation, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“It is very difficult to examine certain sized containers in any depth, given the technology.”

Mustafa Alani, head of security and defence at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai agreed the sheer volume of packages carried by global parcel firms such as UPS and FedEx made it hard to be vigilant.

“The scale of these companies limits their surveillance abilities.”

In the end, however, perhaps the most important feature about the attack was that it had failed, said another analyst.

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