Package bombs linked to al-Qaeda

A passenger loosens the laces of his sneakers before entering the security screening area at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Saturday, Oct. 30 2010 in Atlanta. The discovery of U.S.-bound mail bombs on cargo planes in England and Dubai reveals the danger posed by air shipping, which is governed by a patchwork of inconsistent controls that make packages a potential threat even to passenger jets, experts said Saturday. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)
A passenger loosens the laces of his sneakers before entering the security screening area at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Saturday, Oct. 30 2010 in Atlanta. The discovery of U.S.-bound mail bombs on cargo planes in England and Dubai reveals the danger posed by air shipping, which is governed by a patchwork of inconsistent controls that make packages a potential threat even to passenger jets, experts said Saturday. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser) (Erik S. Lesser)

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By Peter Finn and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Investigators examining explosives found in packages intercepted in Britain and Dubai suspect the material, preliminarily identified as PETN, points not only to the role of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen but to a sophisticated bomb-maker who last year sent his brother to his death in an effort to kill a Saudi prince.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a 28-year-old Saudi national who is on that country's most-wanted list, secreted a PETN-based bomb in a body cavity of his younger brother, Abdullah, who pretended to be turning himself in. The bomb killed his brother and wounded Mohammed bin Nayef, a top counterterrorism official and Saudi royal.

Asiri, 28, who is based in Yemen, is also believed to have built the underwear bomb that a Nigerian man trained in Yemen attempted to detonate last Christmas Day on a commercial aircraft approaching Detroit. That device also contained PETN, or pentaerythritol trinitrate.

"He is certainly someone we are focused on," a U.S. official said of Asiri.

Both packages were shipped from Yemen, where officials said Saturday that they had arrested a woman suspected of mailing them.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told reporters in the capital, Sanaa, that the United States and the United Arab Emirates had provided information that helped identify the woman, who was arrested at her home in Sanaa.

Yemeni officials told the Reuters news agency that the woman, who was not named, is a medical student in her 20s.

A British minister said Saturday that the bomb, found in a package destined for a Chicago synagogue, was "viable," and could have exploded and brought down the UPS plane that was carrying it.

"We do not believe that the perpetrators of the attack would have known the location of the device when they planned for it to explode," said British Home Secretary Theresa May. That suggests the device could have exploded automatically rather than be detonated remotely.

Officials, however, declined to describe the trigger mechanism, and noted that a forensic investigation continues.

A second package was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai, and authorities there said the device, skillfully built inside a printer cartridge, contained an electric circuit and a cellphone chip. The powerful devices were designed to beat airport scanners, officials said.

"The targeting manner carries characteristics similar to methods previously carried out by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda," authorities in Dubai said in a statement.


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