29 Oct 2010

Flights grounded over US and UK terror scare

Home Affairs Correspondent

Suspect packages found on cargo planes in the UK and Dubai did contain explosives, and were a “credible terrorist threat” President Obama has said. The packages were bound for the United States.

Speaking at a press conference, the US President said “Last night and earlier today our intelligence and law enforcement professionals working with our friends and allies identified two suspicious packages bound for the US – specifically, two places of Jewish worship in Chicago.

“Those packages have been located in Dubai and East Midlands Airport in the UK.

“Initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material.”

The Metropolitan Police said “We can confirm that explosives experts attended the airport. At this stage there is nothing to suggest any location was being targeted in the UK.”

Both of the suspcious packages originated from Yemen.

As a result of security precautions triggered by this threat, cargo planes were grounded at Newark and Philadelphia airports and moved away from terminal buildings. Fighter jets also escorted a plane from Dubai into New York’s John F.Kennedy airport as a precaution, because it had cargo from Yemen. There was no threat associated with the flight, the FBI later confirmed.

The US Department of Homeland Security said it was increasing aviation security as a result of the incidents.

Suspect package in Britain

The British government said it was “too soon to say” what its strategy would be but stressed that it was “urgently considering” what to do about freight coming from Yemen.

The UK package was found within a distribution centre at East Midlands airport. Police have been dealing with the incident since last night.

It is believed the package arrived in the UK from the Yemen via Germany. Channel 4 News understands the package was well concealed in printing materials and that it was addressed to Jewish community addresses in Chicago.

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman said: “I understand that a possible bomb threat was reported to the US and UK authorities by another government.” The threat appears to have come from the Gulf, rather than from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement: “Safety and security of the UK remains my number one priority. We are working closely with our international colleagues and will continue to do so.

“At this stage there is nothing to suggest that any location in the UK was being targeted. We are urgently considering what steps need to be put in place regarding security of freight originating from Yemen. For security reasons there are currently no direct flights from Yemen to the UK.”

A forensic officer at East Midlands Airport investigates the suspicious package

Synagogues in the Chicago area were warned to be on security alert on Friday, according to Reuters reports. Jewish organisations in the UK said they were already on high alert and would remain so.

In Dubai, the suspicious package was discovered at a FedEx Corp facility.

A spokeswoman for FedEx said: “As an additional safety measure FedEx has embargoed all shipments originating from Yemen.”

Yemeni officials said they were investigating the incidents.

Earlier today, there were also concerns about packages found in New York. At a press conference, the NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said: “The package which was identified as being of concern in Brooklyn has been examined and has been cleared. There were no wires in this envelope – it appears to be bank receipts being sent to JP Morgan.”

Abundance of caution

In a statement, UPS said: “UPS is working closely with authorities. Because these incidents are still being investigated, we don’t have any further details.”

The Transportation Security Administration in America has issued a statement saying it is “aware of and monitoring reports of potentially suspicious items onboard cargo flights that landed safely at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International airports.

“Out of an abundance of caution the planes were moved to a remote location where they are being met by law enforcement officials and swept.”

The United States has stepped up its training, intelligence and military aid to Yemen after a failed plot to blow up a US passenger plane on Christmas Day 2009, for which the Yemeni wing of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. In the UK, direct flights were stopped from Yemen earlier this year over security concerns.