Cargo Jets Searched Over “Suspicious Packages”
The big cable news story of the day has involved a few cargo jets being held for inspection in New York and Philadelphia due to concerns about packages from Yemen:
U.S. counterterrorism officials said that two suspicious packages removed from cargo planes en route to the United States on Friday did not contain explosives but may have been part of an attempt by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen to test cargo screening systems for vulnerabilities.
“That’s one of the theories – that they are testing the system and probing for weaknesses,” said a U.S. counterterrorism official. “Rehearsals get you closer to the game.”
The official said that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, as the Yemen-based al-Qaeda offshoot is known, is suspected of being involved in the plot. “They’re on the short list,” the official said.
The White House said that intelligence and law enforcement agencies had “discovered potential suspicious packages on two planes in transit to the United States.”
The discovery led officials to search a United Parcel Service plane at the East Midlands airport near Nottingham in England, which is a UPS hub, and a FedEx plane in Dubai.
The package in Britain contained a printer toner cartridge – an item so commonplace that authorities questioned why someone would pay to ship it such a distance.
Although it tested negative for explosives, the cartridge contained protruding wires and white powder, heightening suspicions that terrorists might be attempting a dry run.
The packages found in Dubai and Britain came from the same address in Yemen and reportedly were addressed to Chicago synagogues.
“We at the Jewish Federation earlier this morning received a notification that Chicago synagogues should be on alert,” said Linda Haase, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who declined to provide any details about what the warning said or who issued it. “It’s sad, but this is not the first time we’ve had to deal with a security alert.”
Counterterrorism officials said authorities were searching for other suspicious parcels.
A flight from the United Arab Emirates was being escorted into JFK airport in New York by fighter jets on Friday afternoon. The flight was first intercepted by two Canadian F-18s as it entered Canadian airspace under orders from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), according to a U.S. miliary official. The escort was then passed to two U.S. F-15s when the flight entered American airspace.
The plane is carrying cargo from Yemen, according to the Associated Press. Officials told the news agency that there is no known threat associated with the flight.
While the three cable news networks seem to be giving this story wall-to-wall coverage, it’s unclear whether this is a something serious, evidence of terrorists testing security procedures (a “dry run”), or simply another evidence of what might be referred to as overly abundant caution.