U.S., foreign agencies track leads in package bomb plotBy ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO
November 2, 2010
As U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies track leads in last week's aborted package bomb plot, there were new concerns in Europe as Greek police stopped four attempted parcel attacks in Athens Monday, including one in which the device exploded and injured a delivery service worker.
The bombs found in Athens involved suspects linked to a domestic anarchist group and not the al-Qaida affiliates blamed in the Yemen episode, officials said.
Details of the Yemen attempts, in which two package bombs destined for Chicago were intercepted en route on air cargo flights, continued to emerge Monday.
The tip about last week's plot came from an al-Qaida militant from Yemen who had surrendered about a month ago to Saudi Arabia and provided information, Yemeni security officials said.
Militant helped out
The militant, Jabir al-Fayfi, had reportedly been freed from Guantánamo in 2006 and was among a group sent back to Saudi Arabia. Yemeni officials said that al-Fayfi returned to the al-Qaida fold after traveling to Yemen where he became familiar with the bomb plot details. The BBC reported that al-Fayfi decided to cooperate with Saudi officials because he wanted to return to his native Saudi Arabia. Officials believe the plot's mastermind was Saudi bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
Meanwhile, as U.S. and other security services tried to trace the source of the components in the air cargo bombs, which contained the high explosive PETN hidden in printer cartridges and apparently designed to detonate in flight, stricter shipping procedures were announced. In Washington, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said a temporary 48-hour hold on air cargo coming into the country from Yemen announced Friday was extended to Nov. 8. The U.S. Postal Service has also temporarily banned parcels coming from Yemen until further notice.
Several other Western governments announced moves to isolate and stop all inbound commercial and cargo flights from Yemen.
Krista Riemma, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service on Long Island, said all postal service employees in Nassau and Suffolk have been issued a directive from headquarters in Washington to be extra "vigilant" in the wake of the mail bomb threat that surfaced Friday.
"The U.S. Postal Service has heightened our awareness among our employees and we remain vigilant in ensuring a security processes are adhered to in the acceptance of international mail arriving in the United States," she said. There are about 177 post offices, branches and stations on Long Island.
Congress to get involved
Air cargo will get special attention once Congress returns after the elections, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) reiterated Monday to Newsday. King said he spoke with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about the subject over the weekend.
"I told Napolitano we have to find a way to make it [air cargo] more secure," said King, adding that the security "was not as good as it should be, but not all that bad."
King said that he had learned that the cargo shipped from Yemen had been X-rayed there at least once, but that its clever packaging seemed to conceal the explosive components. He wasn't aware of whether any more sensitive detection systems such as specially trained dogs or other devices were used.
In the Athens bomb incidents, two Greek men in their 20s were arrested several hundred yards from the blast site, carrying handguns and ammunition, with one wearing a bulletproof vest, a wig and a baseball cap. Officials disclosed that three bomb parcels were found on the suspects: one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and two others to the Netherlands and Belgian embassies. The parcel that exploded had been addressed to the Mexican Embassy, according to Greek officials.