x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Bomb scares put US on alert

Suspicious packages originating from Yemen found on US-bound cargo planes in Dubai and UK airports prompt a dramatic security alert.

Suspicious packages originating from Yemen found on US-bound cargo planes at Dubai and UK airports prompt a dramatic security alert.
Suspicious packages originating from Yemen found on US-bound cargo planes at Dubai and UK airports prompt a dramatic security alert.

WASHINGTON // Two packages suspected of containing explosives found on cargo planes in Dubai and Britain, both in transit to America, yesterday prompted a dramatic security alert in the US that saw other cargo planes isolated and investigated at two airports.

Last night, officials with the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority confirmed a suspicious package was found in Dubai and was taken to a lab for tests, Wam reported.

It also reported that an official from the Authority said an Emirates Airline plane from Dubai to the US that was escorted by air force jets in US airspace did not carry any shipment from Yemen.

Barack Obama, the US president, told a news conference that the packages "do apparently contain explosive materials".

Security agencies in the US remained on high alert.

The head of corporate communications for Dubai International Airport, Lorne Riley, said he was not aware of any incidents involving suspicious packages or grounded planes but added the airport had advised courier companies to suspend Yemen operations.

The packages were being sent via shipping companies UPS and FedEx.

The packages, not the planes, originated from the same address in Yemen, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Officials for FedEx said the company had confiscated a suspicious package in Dubai that was shipped from Yemen and is cooperating with the FBI. The company, based in Memphis, Tennessee, said it has embargoed all shipments from Yemen indefinitely. Company spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said yesterday she could not estimate how many packages might be involved or discuss what was suspicious about the package.

The United Parcel Service flight that stopped in Britain en route to Chicago carried a parcel containing an ink toner with wires sticking out and a suspicious powder that UK officials suspected had been converted into a bomb.

The FBI said the two packages were addressed to religious institutions in Chicago, Ross Rise, the Chicago FBI spokesman said. One was a synagogue, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

An FBI official later told Bloomberg, however, that investigators found no trace of explosives in the toner, and subsequent reports confirm that no explosive material were unearthed in other searches.

Nevertheless, and "out of an abundance of caution", according to a statement from the Transport Security Administration, part of the US Department for Homeland Security, three UPS planes were isolated at airports in Philadelphia and Newark, for further investigation.

"The planes … were met by law enforcement officials and swept," the TSA said in a statement. No specific packages had been singled out on those planes and their isolation was precautionary.

Security officials are investigating suggestions that the packages were part of a "dry run" exercise, and the Department for Homeland Security said it had stepped up security and cargo screening measures around the world.

A DHS statement warned travellers to expect "an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others".

A UPS truck in Brooklyn was also stopped and searched, but later released, according to the New York City police.

UPS could not be reached for comment about the nature of the packages that had been searched onboard the US planes.

Barack Obama, the US president, had been informed of the packages on Thursday night, according to the White House, and had instructed US security services to step up precautionary measures.

The alert was raised following what the White House said had been "close cooperation among US government agencies and with our foreign allies and partners".

In Derby, England, police examined a suspicious package found early yesterday in a freight distribution centre at East Midlands Airport, a police statement said.

"At 3.28am this morning police dealt with a report of a suspicious package within a distribution centre at East Midlands Airport," a police statement said.

The distribution centre was cordoned off but the airport remained open.

Reports earlier in the US suggested a London airport was involved in the security alert, but a spokesman for Britain's Department for Transport told AFP: "We are not aware of anything in London."

Police said they had examined the suspicious package at East Midlands Airport in the early hours, before announcing there was no threat mid-morning yesterday. However, they reinstalled security cordons at about 2pm local time.

"The package is being re-examined as a precaution and as such the cordons that were originally put in place have been reinstated as a precaution," said the police statement.

"This has meant that a freight distribution building and a number of offices have been closed together with internal airport roads... The airport continues to operate as normal and has been throughout."

Yemeni authorities launched an investigation into the suspicious packages, a security official said. "It is only normal that we would investigate this incident and these claims," the official said.

There are four UPS offices in Yemen located in Sana'a, Aden, Taiz and Hodiedahm, according to the company's website,

A person who answered the phone at the UPS office in Sana'a last night refused to answer any questions about the scare, saying he was just the security guard.

Yemen is home to the al Qa'eda branch that tried to bomb a US-bound airliner on December 25, Christmas Day.

okarmi@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Mohammed al Qadhi in Sana'a and Eugene Harnan in Dubai and Associated Press