x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Parcel bombs expose gaping hole in security

The terrorists have clearly found a loophole and it is the shared responsibility of every government involved to make sure that it is closed.

The Saudi intelligence services were one step ahead. The two parcels containing explosives apparently passed through airport security undetected and were en route to targets in the United States before a timely tip by Saudi officials to the British MI6.

That one of the parcels was intercepted in Dubai, a critical transhipment hub for the region, underscores the shared threat posed by these types of attacks. The incident has also exposed a gaping vulnerability in cargo shipping. It remains to be seen whether this was a trial run or if these parcels were direct attacks on the two Chicago synagogues to which they were addressed. What is abundantly clear is that terrorists are now targeting a weakness in international transport.

"The whole issue of cargo security has been up in the air for a long time, almost since 2001," Chris Yates, the security editor at Jane's Aviation, told the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. "It is very difficult to examine certain sized containers in any depth, given the technology. Cargo planes have always been the Achilles heel."

Passengers have grown accustomed to the routine checks at airports, which are partly credited with preventing a successful terrorist attack on an airliner since 2001. Those standards may be due for a review, with UK aviation officials complaining last week that some US requirements were unnecessary. Far more urgent, however, is a top-to-bottom security assessment of airline cargo and shipping procedures at firms like FedEx and United Parcel Service. It appears that terrorist groups are already busy conducting an assessment of their own.

This latest attack seems to bear the fingerprints of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, although officials were still waiting to confirm that suspicion yesterday. The charge found in these packages - the powerful high explosive PETN - is the same that was used in the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and the assassination attempt on the Saudi counterterrorism chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The handful of misguided al Qa'eda militants in Yemen clearly pose a regional and a global threat. Sana'a has promised an investigation into these latest events, in cooperation with international law enforcement agencies. Given Yemen's patchy record reining in al Qa'eda, Gulf states have to remain vigilant to contain this neighbouring threat.

Saudi intelligence can chalk up a victory - apparently its information pinpointed the exact location of the bombs for its British counterparts. Aviation security protocols, however, have to answer for an abject failure. The terrorists have found a loophole and it is the shared responsibility of every government involved to make sure that it is closed.