• Plot to mail bombs to US synagogues
  • Attack bears the hallmarks of al-Qaeda
  • US and Yemen vow to hunt down terrorists

AN INTERNATIONAL hunt has begun for the terrorists who tried to mail two bombs from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues in a brazen plot that heightened fears of a renewed al-Qaeida terror offensive against the US and other Western countries.

US and Yemeni authorities last night vowed to hunt down the perpetrators.

The plot to bomb Jewish centres in the US with explosives hidden in couriered parcels was foiled at the 11th hour in an international counter-terror operation.

Authorities on three continents thwarted the attacks when they seized explosives on cargo planes in the United Arab Emirates and England.

The plot sent tremors throughout the US where, after a frenzied day searching planes and parcel trucks for other explosives, officials temporarily banned all new cargo from Yemen.

Several US officials said they were increasingly confident that al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch was responsible.

US President Barack Obama said yesterday two packages from Yemen, addressed to synagogues in Chicago, contained explosive material and were a “credible terrorist threat”.

The discovery of the suspicious packages overnight on cargo planes in transit to the US  one in Dubai and the other in Britain’s East Midlands Airport – sparked an international security alert.

Tip off

The White House said it was tipped off by Saudi Arabia to the threat and said Washington was “grateful . . . for their assistance in developing information that helped underscore the imminence of the threat emanating from Yemen”.

Informed late on Thursday, President Obama immediately ordered cargo planes at Philadelphia and Newark international airports to be towed to isolation and checked because they were thought to contain further packages from Yemen.

US and Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany an Emirates plane into New York, but Emirates authorities later said it was not carrying cargo from Yemen.

“We will continue to pursue additional protective measures as long as it takes to ensure the safety and security of our citizens,” President Obama told a press conference at the White House.

Top officials reassured the public that the threat level to the US was unchanged, but the Department of Homeland Security announced it had boosted security measures.

The President made it clear he suspected al-Qaeda’s Yemeni-based affiliate of being behind the plot, which could have severe ramifications for the global cargo industry.

“Although we are still pursuing all of the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen,” Mr Obama said.

“We know that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens and our friends and allies.”

Wire-rigged ink toner

Yemeni officials said their Government had launched a full investigation and was working closely on the incident with international partners, including the US.

“It does appear there were explosive materials in both of the packages,” Mr Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said.

“They were in a form that was designed to try to carry out some type of an attack.

“The initial analysis is that the materials that were found and the device that was uncovered was intended to do harm.”

US media reported that the packages, which held a wire-rigged ink toner cartridge and suspicious powder, might have contained the explosive PETN, the same substance used by would-be 2009 Christmas Day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

British authorities were probing whether the package contained a “viable” bomb, Home Secretary Theresa May said.

“At this stage I can say that the device did contain explosive material. But it is not yet clear that it was a viable explosive device. The forensic work continues,” Ms May said.

Mr Brennan said all packages originating from Yemen would be “carefully screened”.

US authorities gave advance warning to Jewish leaders in Chicago.

“My family lives in Israel and I’ve lived through terrorist attacks,” Avraham Mendel said as he walked to Friday night services in the heart of Chicago’s Orthodox community. “We have God watching over us.”

Catalogue of air terror

September 11, 2001 Nineteen men hijacked four commercial airliners in the US, killing nearly 3000 people when they crashed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The attacks prompted a security overhaul on passenger flights.

Shoe Bomb Plot, 2001 British Islamic fundamentalist Richard Reid attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami by detonating explosives hidden in his shoes on 22 December 2001. He was caught attempting to use a match to light a fuse connected to one of the shoes, was convicted in 2003 and is serving a life sentence.

Liquid Bomb Plot, 2006 In August 2006, three Britons were arrested as they plotted to blow up transatlantic passenger planes with bombs disguised as drinks. Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain, and Assad Sarwar identified seven flights from London’s Heathrow airport to San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal. The plot – the UK’s biggest terror investigation, which intelligence officers believe was directed by al-Qaida figures in Pakistan – saw tougher regulations about liquids on flights.

Underpants Attack 2009 Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of lighting a makeshift bomb smuggled on board in his underwear as a Northwest Airlines flight with 290 people on board approached Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. The device fizzled and smoked but did not detonate and passengers and crew subdued the suspect. He is on trial in Detroit and has pleaded not guilty.

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