Al-Qaeda terror plot bombs ‘big enough to bring down planes’
The bombs used in the cargo plane terror plot were at least 50 times more powerful than would be needed to blow a hole in an aircraft fuselage, officials said today.
Published: 7:41PM GMT 01 Nov 2010
Jabir Jubran al-Fayfi contacted Saudi authorities from Yemen to express his regret and readiness to surrender Photo: AP
Experts in Germany said the bombs at East Midlands Airport and in Dubai contained at least 300g (10.58oz) of the powerful explosive PETN as Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced a review of all air freight security.
UK explosives expert Sidney Alford told CNN last year that just 6g of PETN would be enough to punch a hole into a metal plate twice the thickness of an aircraft fuselage.
David Cameron, who chaired an hour-long meeting of the Government’s emergency committee Cobra today, said every possible step must be taken “to work with our partners in the Arab world to cut out the terrorist cancer that lurks in the Arabian Peninsula”.
Mrs May told MPs both bombs originated in Yemen and were believed to be the work of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap).
“The devices were probably intended to detonate mid-air and to destroy the cargo aircraft on which they were being transported,” she said.
“Had the device detonated we assess it could have succeeded in bringing down the aircraft.”
While there was no information to suggest another attack of a similar type was imminent, the authorities were working “on the assumption that this organisation will wish to continue to find ways of also attacking targets further afield”, Mrs May said.
Announcing the security review, she said all flights containing unaccompanied freight from Somalia will be suspended in the wake of the terror plot.
The suspension, which will come into force from midnight, was a “precautionary measure” based on “possible contact between al-Qaeda in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia, as well as concern about airport security in Mogadishu”, Mrs May said. Flights of unaccompanied air freight from Yemen were suspended earlier this year.
Ink cartridges larger than 500g (17.6oz) will be banned from hand baggage on flights departing from the UK and also on cargo flights unless they originate from a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department for Transport, Mrs May said.
The plot was a “stark reminder of the harm our enemies wish to inflict upon us”, she added.
The bomb at East Midlands Airport was removed from a UPS aircraft by Leicestershire police officers shortly after 3.30am on Friday following a tip-off from Saudi intelligence. It had travelled through a UPS hub at Germany’s Cologne airport before being detected in the UK following the tip-off, officials said.
But neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Office were told about what was happening until around lunchtime that day, Downing Street said. US President Barack Obama had been kept “fully informed” since Thursday night, officials said.
Yemeni security officials said the tip-off came from Jabir al-Fayfi, a leading al-Qaeda militant who turned himself in to Saudi authorities last month.
Qatar Airlines confirmed on Sunday the parcel bomb discovered in Dubai was transported on two separate passenger jets before being found by security staff.
Mr Cameron chaired the Cobra meeting amid calls for a full review of the security measures for cargo.
Norman Shanks, former head of security at airport operator BAA, said it was time to introduce “package by package” screening after it emerged one of the cargo plane bombs was transported on passenger aircraft before being found.
But Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary warned against overreacting, saying he feared a new raft of “ludicrous” airport security measures.
Meanwhile, the FBI and Homeland Security Department in the US warned local officials across the country that packages from abroad with no return address and excessive postage required a second look.
An anti-terror investigation was focusing on Saudi-born bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri as the prime suspect for making the bombs.
He is also believed to have been responsible for making the device involved in the failed Christmas Day bomb plot over Detroit last year.
US deputy national security adviser John Brennan aired fears about the extent of the latest plot, saying “it would be very imprudent … to presume that there are no others (packages) out there”.
The Metropolitan Police was criticised on Sunday after it emerged the UK device was at first declared “safe” before being re-examined as a “precaution”.
Shadow home secretary Ed Balls praised the “brave and vital work” done by security and police personnel, but added: “Why was the device not discovered by police officers during the first search and could earlier information have made a material difference to the search?”
He said the fact that the two devices had been carried on a series of five aircraft, three of them passenger flights, raised “serious questions about the security of our airspace”.
The alert followed calls last week from airline bosses that existing security procedures such as shoe and laptop checks should be scrapped.
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