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Yemen packages: what is known so far about 'credible terrorist threat'

Obama, appearing at the White House, says Yemen packages bound for synagogues in Chicago contained explosives. Suspicion falls on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

By Staff writer / October 29, 2010

Emergency personnel move cargo containers near a grounded UPS cargo jet as the plane is searched by law enforcement officials at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia October 29, 2010. Two suspicious packages being flown from Yemen to the United States were found in Britain and Dubai on Friday after a tip prompted authorities to search cargo planes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tim Shaffer/Reuters

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President Obama confirmed in a White House appearance Friday afternoon that two packages bound from Yemen to the United States and examined in two separate overseas airports contained “explosive materials” and constituted a “credible terrorist threat.”

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While the president and administration officials stopped short of calling the packages “bombs,” Mr. Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, John Brennan, said the two packages were “designed to try to carry out some type of attack.”

The packages, which officials said were addressed to two unspecified synagogues in the Chicago area, “intended to do harm,” Mr. Brennan added. Initial reports had said at least one of the packages tested negative for explosives.

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Both Obama and Brennan stopped short of fingering a responsible party for the foiled threat, but their references to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made clear where their suspicions – if not assumptions – lie.

“Although we are still pursuing all the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen,” Obama said in his statement in the White House press room. “We also know,” he added, “that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies.”

The two packages – one stopped and examined in Britain, the other in Dubai – were the centerpieces of a day-long international terror alert and investigation that by day’s end Friday allowed for several salient observations about the international counterterrorism effort:

  • The evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-associated terror groups are still trying to figure out how to use commercial aircraft to carry out terrorist acts against the US.
  • The fact, as revealed by Brennan, that Obama was informed about a credible terrorist threat involving packages from Yemen even before the packages were located and stopped indicates that information about the plot may have come from a source within the organization that hatched the plan.
  • The rapidity with which the threat was detected and the long list of domestic and foreign intelligence and counterterrorism agencies that were involved in addressing it suggests the degree of progress that the US and other governments have made toward foiling threats and addressing the international terrorist challenge.