Authorities Intercept U.S.-Bound Cargo Laden with Explosives
Updated: November 24, 2010
Posted: November 2, 2010
Federal authorities have thwarted a Yemen-based terror plot to send explosive-laden packages on U.S.-bound cargo flights.
On October 29, 2010, federal authorities announced that they were investigating a "credible terrorist threat" stemming from the discovery of suspicious packages consisting of manipulated ink toner cartridges on two U.S.-bound cargo flights. The packages, which were discovered in Britain and in the United Arab Emirates en route to the U.S., reportedly originated from the same location in Yemen and were addressed to Chicago-area synagogues. The addresses, however, are outdated as there are no synagogues or Jewish institutions located at the addresses.
"This was something that could have been detonated en route here to the United States, or at the destination," Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan said.
On November 5, 2010, Al Qaeda's affiliate based in Yemen – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – claimed responsibility for the plot and urged followers to carry out similar attacks against Western aviation. "We wish to encourage our Mujahideen [Muslim warriors] brothers all over to expand their targets to include civilian aircrafts in the West in addition to courier services," the statement read. The AQAP statement, which threatened additional attacks against American interests, also vilified Saudi Arabia for their alleged cooperation with the Jews and for providing intelligence that enabled Western officials to locate and diffuse the explosive-laden packages. "Allah has exposed your true servitude to the Jews, for these devices were heading towards Zionist Jewish synagogues, but you interfered with your known treachery to protect them."
AQAP further threatened to “bleed the enemy to death” be sending similar explosive devices on both commercial and passenger aircrafts in the November 2010 issue of their English-language Magazine Inspire. The entirety of the issue is dedicated to “Operation Hemorrhage” – the apparent sobriquet AQAP has attributed to the plot – which was devised to inflict economic damage on the U.S. and to create a “hemorrhage in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the U.S. and Europe.”
AQAP previously targeted American aviation in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger plane from Europe last year. In a video released days after the bombing attempt, AQAP not only claimed responsibility for the plot but, addressing the American people, further threatened to "come for you to slaughter, and we have prepared for you men who love death like you love life."
"Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been rather open in its venom towards the United States, towards Western interests," Brennan said. "A lot of its plots have focused on trying to carry out attacks against aircraft, using aircraft also as potential missiles."
AQAP operatives allegedly provided the explosive device used in the attempted Christmas Day bombing – which contained 80 grams of the powerful explosive PETN – and instructions for how to use it. Federal authorities have implicated alleged AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri in both last year's attempted bombing and in connection with the recently discovered explosive packages sent from Yemen to the U.S., which reportedly contained more than four times as much PETN as that used in the Christmas Day plot. A similar device containing PETN was used by Al-Asiri's younger brother in an attempt to assassinate a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family in August 2009.
In recent years, Yemen has emerged as a terror threat to the U.S.; several American citizens have traveled to Yemen to align themselves with or receive training from Al Qaeda, and self-radicalized Americans have planned attacks based on AQAP's ideology. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, the American citizen who allegedly shot two uniformed American soldiers at a military recruiting center in Arkansas in June 2009, traveled to Yemen two years earlier and has since claimed to have ties with AQAP.
The Yemeni-based terrorist organization has also encouraged terror attacks on U.S. soil to inflict mass casualties and economic losses. In its English-language magazine released in October 2010, AQAP suggested that its followers use pickup trucks to strike pedestrians, build and plant homemade bombs and carry out attacks using firearms. The October issue also featured an image of the Chicago skyline.
Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, as well as Al Qaeda's agenda of eliminating Israel, are also propagated throughout the magazine, while an editor's note warns that AQAP will "not lay down their arms until they free this land from the tyrants and march on to Jerusalem. That is when America and its Jewish masters would realize the true danger of AQAP."
Federal authorities have stated that both explosive-laden packages discovered in cargo shipment bound for the U.S. were shipped by a woman assuming the identity of Hanan Al-Samawi, a Yemeni engineering student at Sana'a University. Al-Samawi was briefly detained in connection with the plot; both she and her mother, who was also arrested, have since been released.
The Department of Homeland Security has also warned that the plot may be connected to two Yemeni-based schools: the Yemen American Institute for Languages-Computer Management and the American Center for Training and Development. The existence of the schools, however, has yet to be confirmed.