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Yemen packages: Is Al Qaeda focusing on small-scale attacks?

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the failed Christmas Day bomb attempt last year. US authorities believe the terrorist group is focusing on small-scale attacks against the West.

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The new Al Qaeda, Mr. Simon and Mr. Stevenson argue, seems to understand both its own limitations and the potential effectiveness of attacks that, while modest in scale, can still do considerable harm on a global scale. Such attacks may achieve an important side goal, they add: avoiding Muslim casualties that have been criticized by jihadist dissenters.

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Despite an ongoing search for more potential bomb parcels from Yemen, President Obama continued on Saturday with a scheduled campaign travel day including stops in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago.

On Friday, John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism assistant, issued a statement thanking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for aid that "helped make it possible to increase our vigilance and identify the suspicious packages in Dubai and East Midlands Airport" in Britain.

British Home secretary Theresa May said Saturday that the bomb could have brought down an aircraft. But she voiced skepticism that the perpetrators could have known where the device would be when they planned for it to explode.

Even an attack on a cargo plane can be deadly, putting not only pilots' lives at risk but also potentially others as well.

Cargo not screened like passenger bags

"Cargo travels on both cargo-only and on combi-aircraft, which have passengers and cargo," Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, told the Associated Press. "And cargo is not subject to the same screening requirements as passengers' baggage."

A cargo-plane explosion at an airport or while flying above a city would also put non-crew lives at risk.

At the very least, dealing with heightened terror threats is financially costly. And the new focus on cargo comes, coincidentally, as the US Transportation Security Administration is also implementing new pat-down procedures for air travelers.

"Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others," the TSA said in a statement Thursday.

[Reuters reports that Yemeni security forces have arrested a woman thought to be involved in sending explosive packages headed to the United States after surrounding a house where she was hiding in the capital Sanaa. Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said earlier that security forces had surrounded a house at an undisclosed location where a woman believed to be involved in the apparent plan to attack targets in the United States was taking refuge.]