Sunday, 31 October 2010

BBC News - Dubai bomb was flown on passenger planes

31 October 2010 Last updated at 13:14

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Dubai bomb was flown on passenger planes

Dubai device The device had been placed in a cardboard box and posted to the US

One of the two bombs posted from Yemen last week was transported on two passenger planes before being seized in Dubai, Qatar Airways says.

The device was carried on a Qatar Airbus A320 from Yemen's capital Sanaa to Doha, the company told the BBC.

There it was transferred onto another Qatar Airways aircraft to Dubai, where it was seized by police.

The bomb contained the explosive, PETN, which is difficult to detect using normal airport security screening.

A second device was found at East Midlands Airport in the UK. Both bombs were hidden inside printer toner cartridges.

Until now it had been thought that both devices had been transported using cargo planes.

The US freight firms, UPS and FedEx, had been used to post the devices, which were addressed to synagogues in the US city of Chicago.

The British authorities says the bomb seized in central England was believed to have been designed to go off in mid-air.

Continue reading the main story


image of Gordon Corera Gordon Corera Security correspondent, BBC News

AQAP is known to have been developing advanced and inventive bomb-making techniques.

It came close to killing the Saudi interior minister with one device and to bringing down an airliner on Christmas Day with another.

The exact way in which these devices were to be detonated is not clear. This is another sign of growing creativeness allied to ongoing ambition.

Attacking cargo planes has also long been anticipated as a potential tactic. Militant groups regularly look for any weak spots in security and aviation remains a prime target.

Qatar Airways was unable to confirm which type of passenger plane was used to fly the device on from Doha to Dubai, but said it would have been an A320, A321 or Boeing 777. The firm also runs one freight-only flight a week from Sanaa to Doha.

"Qatar Airways can confirm that a recent courier consignment was carried aboard one of its aircraft from Sanaa to Dubai, via Doha International Airport," said a statement on the airline's website.

"The carrier stated that, as per Chicago Convention, it is not the responsibility of the country in which the cargo transits to x-ray or inspect the cargo. This responsibility belongs to the country from where the consignment originates.

"Furthermore, the explosives discovered were of a sophisticated nature whereby they could not be detected by x-ray screening or trained sniffer dogs. The explosives were only discovered after an intelligence tip off."

'Same bomber'

US officials have said the Saudi-born bomb-maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, is the prime suspect for constructing the devices.

He is believed to be one of the leading figures in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional offshoot of the militant network, and the organiser of a suicide attack by his brother last year on the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Mohammed Bin Nayif. The prince survived the attack, in which PETN was also used.

Washington's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, said officials also believed the same person had constructed the printer bombs and the underpants bomb used in the failed attempt to blow up an airliner over the US on Christmas Day last year. AQAP said it was behind the latter attack.

"I think that the indications are right now based on forensic analysis that the individual responsible for putting these devices together is the same," he told ABC News.

He also said the US was re-examining the unexplained crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September to see if anything could be learnt.

Suspect questioned

The Yemeni authorities are questioning a student who is alleged to have posted the devices, and whose mobile phone number was reportedly left with the offices.

She has been named by human rights groups as Hanan al-Samawi, 22.

The authorities initially described her as a medical student, but later reports said she was studying computer engineering at the University of Sanaa and had no known links to Islamist militants.

"Her acquaintances tell me that she is a quiet student and there was no knowledge of her having involvement in any religious or political groups," her lawyer, Abdel Rahman Burman, told the Reuters news agency.

"I'm concerned the girl is a victim because it doesn't make sense that the person who would do this kind of operation would leave a picture of their ID and their phone number."

How the alerts were raised (all times GMT):


• Early hours of Friday morning: alert raised at East Midlands airport after suspect package found on UPS plane. Security cordon put in place, then lifted.

• 0900: suspect package found on FedEx plane in Dubai.

• 1300: security cordon reinstated at East Midlands airport, apparently after a second suspect device is found.

• 1700: FBI says two suspect packages were addressed to religious buildings in Chicago.

• 1835: Emirates Flight 201 from Yemen via Dubai lands at JFK airport, New York, escorted by US fighter jets. The plane is carrying a package from Yemen.

• 1845: FedEx in Dubai confirms it has confiscated a suspect package sent from Yemen and is suspending all shipments from Dubai.

• 1900: two other FedEx flights investigated after landing at Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Both receive the all-clear.

• 2330: BA flight from London to New York (JFK) met by US officials as a "precautionary measure".