Washington — Two packages containing explosives sent from Yemen and addressed to Chicago area Jewish organizations were discovered Friday aboard U.S.-bound aircraft in Britain and Dubai following a tipoff to U.S. authorities from a foreign government, U.S. officials said.
A Yemen-based al Qaida affiliate, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, topped the U.S. government’s list of suspects.
President Barack Obama told a hastily called White House news conference that the packages represented a “credible terrorist threat,” and he said their discoveries “underscore the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism.”
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Both packages were sent from Yemen, one by the UPS Parcel Service and the other by Fedex, said a U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because the information had not yet been cleared for public release.
One package, discovered aboard a UPS cargo jet at East Midlands, north of London, contained a copier toner cartridge rigged with explosives and wiring, the U.S. official said.
The second package was found aboard a Fedex cargo jet at the international airport in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, the U.S. official said. The official was unable to confirm that the second package also was an explosives-rigged toner cartridge.
The searches were launched after U.S. authorities “got a tip from a foreign government, a foreign partner, on the two packages,” said the U.S. official, who added that searches of aircraft in Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia were staged as a “precautionary measure” because they were known to be carrying cargo from Yemen.
Obama said that an initial examination of the packages had determined that “they do apparently contain explosive material” and that officials were attempting to determine their connection, if any, to broader terrorist plots by al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula or other groups.
Obama said the packages originated in Yemen and were addressed to two Chicago Jewish institutions. The U.S. official said one of the packages was addressed to a Jewish community center.
Obama, who read his statement before heading to a campaign event in Virginia, said he has instructed law enforcement officials to take “whatever steps are necessary to protect our citizens from this type of attack.”
The Department of Homeland Security said that “as a precaution” it had “taken a number of steps to enhance security. Some of these security measures will be visible while others will not. The public may recognize specific enhancements including heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports.
“Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others. As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement,” said the DHS statement.