Yemeni woman arrested in cargo terror plotBy ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO
October 31, 2010
As U.S. officials continued to examine records of air cargo shipped from Yemen, officials in that Middle East country announced on Saturday the arrest of a woman on charges that she was a connected to the terror plot that sparked an international alert Friday.
Yemeni officials said the woman, who was not identified, was detained because she was suspected in the mailing of a pair of packages that contained explosive devices to Jewish organizations in Chicago.
Investigators were searching Yemen for more suspects tied to the al-Qaida affiliate there and several U.S. officials identified the terrorist group’s top explosives expert in Yemen as the most likely bombmaker.
Discovery of the plot, which law enforcement officials say used forged documents and identity cards, caused law enforcement and security officials on three continents to isolate certain aircraft and in the process uncovered two parcels containing explosive material that is suspected of being PETN.
Both devices, one of which was discovered in Dubai and the other at an airport north of London, appear to investigators to have been rigged for detonation either by timing devices or a cell phone connection.
British officials said that the device discovered in a UPS cargo shipment could have been geared to detonate aboard the aircraft while it was in flight.
However, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said that U.S. law enforcement officials are not certain if the plotters planned to have the bombs detonate while the cargo planes were in flight or else by cell phone when the parcels reached their destinations in Chicago.
“At this point in time the plot is stopped,” said King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
But King said the investigation in the United States was focusing on additional cargo shipments from Yemen that occurred in the past several weeks to see what new leads could be developed.
Law enforcement officials said about a dozen pieces of suspicious cargo were examined Friday in the U.S. and cleared for entry.
They included two pieces of commercial mail that arrived at Kennedy Airport and were destined for JPMorgan Chase in Brooklyn, as well as a copy of a death certificate that was in a shipment to the airport in Newark and then sent to a private home in the Bronx, according to an NYPD spokesman.
U.S. Department of Justice officials wouldn’t comment Saturday about the news of the arrest in Yemen. But the English language paper Yemen Observer reported that the suspect, identified as a university student, was taken into custody along with her mother after the young woman’s cell phone number was found on the two suspicious packages sent to the U.S.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that the United States and United Arab Emirates had provided intelligence that helped identify the woman.
The Associated Press reported that U.S. officials said al-Qaida’s explosive expert in Yemen, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, was the likely suspect behind the plot.
Al-Asiri is believed to have helped make the Christmas 2009 bomb smuggled on to an aircraft flying into Detroit, said the officials. The explosive PETN was also in that bomb.
The terror threat began to unfold late Thursday. It was then, based on intelligence received from Saudi officials, that U.S. and European agencies decided to corral some cargo flights containing packages from Yemen.
President Barack Obama, spoke with Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday to discuss the plot.
“The president expressed his strong appreciation for the critical role played by Saudi counterterrorism officials in averting this attempted attack and for the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the White House said in a statement.
Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano said Saturday that while no terror group has come forward to claim responsibility, she thought the attempts “have all the hallmarks of a plot.”
While officials think the plot has been defused, they were keeping some security measures in place. On Saturday, the U. S. Postal Service announced it was temporarily suspending shipment of mail from Yemen.