The packages were discovered on Friday at East Midlands airport, in Nottingham, around two hours north of London, and in Dubai, a major Gulf business hub. Both contained toner cartridges for computer printers packed with powder and attached to wires.
Jane Harman, a Democratic congresswoman from California who ists on the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, said the packages contained the explosive substance PETN. One used a mobile phone as a detonator, while the other had a timer.PETN is the same substance that was packed into the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who attempted to ignite a bomb on board an airliner over the United States on December 25 last year.
President Barack Obama said in a press conference on Friday that it was sure that the packages originated in Yemen, "We also know that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies," he said.
The discoveries came after a tip from Saudi Arabia, the White House said, triggering a major security alert on three continents as officials scrambled to check other cargo bound for the United states from Yemen.
One package, found in the United Kingdom, was on board a UPS cargo plan, while the other, in Dubai, was found in a FedEx sorting facility.
The discovery will certainly have consequences for the relations of the West with Yemen. The USA is already active in Yemen. It provides assistance to the Yemeni military with attempts to locate and neutralize presumed Al-Qaeda units. In April president Obama took the unusual step to approve the targeted killing of imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who carries dual Yekeni and American citizenship. By so doing Al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen ever placed on the CIA-target list. Also US drones are used in attacks on presumed Al-Qaeda militants, which have also killed civilians on severeal occasions and which have been criticized by Amnesty International. "The U.S. government has deployed drones in Yemen to kill those it describes as 'high value targets', a practice that has been increasingly criticised as involving unlawful killings," Amnesty said in August. Apart from the militarey involvement the West is also involved in attempts to bolster the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The question remains however to what extend such attempts will bear fruit as long as Saleh is in power, since the president has shown a remarkable inability of late to come to terms with the opposition in the north (th Houthi's with whom he concluded a cease fire, but stil not areal agreemnet), the south and even the important tribal federations in the centre of the country.
The BBC reminds us that Al-Qaeda, although certainly not aiming exclusively at Jewish targets, has more often choosen specific Jewish gatherings or buildings, probably because such targtes atre not only perceived to be connected with the hated Isarel,m but also as a kind of pars pro toto for attacks on Western values in general. The BBC gives the following list of Al-Qaeda attacks on Jewish targets:
- April 2002: Suicide bombing at synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia kills 19. Al-Qaeda claims the attack
- Nov 2002: 16 people killed in suicide bombing al-Qaeda claims to have carried out of Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya
- May 2003: 45 killed in bomb attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, on targets including Jewish cultural centre. Group linked to al-Qaeda blamed.
- Nov 2003: Two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, bombed, killing 23. Al-Qaeda claims responsibility
- Oct 2005: Germany sentences four Arab men accused of links to al-Qaeda of planning attacks on Jewish targets