Yemen packages may signal Al Qaeda franchise is 'amateurish'

The Yemen packages found on UPS and FedEx flights yesterday came shortly after Al Qaeda in Yemen published a jihadist magazine emphasizing the importance of targeting Americans.

Dubai security officials intercepted a parcel containing a bomb hidden in a printer and bound for the United States. Dubai officials said the bomb, contained in the pictured cartridge and its associated printer, bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.

Yemen's reported association with suspicious packages found aboard US-bound cargo planes has once again thrust Yemen into the spotlight as a major battleground in Washington's war against Al Qaeda and its allies.

Explosives materials were discovered yesterday in East Midlands Airport in England and in Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates on planes coming from Yemen.

The Yemeni government issued a statement yesterday imploring the west “not to rush to judgments in such a sensitive issue that is unfolding before the results of investigations show the truth.”

However, the style of attack, sending hard-to-detect explosives, whether using people or packages as couriers, has been a trademark of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the organization’s large-scale operations such as the so-called underwear bomber on Christmas Day last year.

"The plot style carries features similar to previous attacks carried out by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda,” said a statement from the official Emirati news agency released today.

Does Al Qaeda in Yemen lack ability to attack West?

If the plot was claimed by Al Qaeda's franchise in Yemen, a group inspired by but largely separate from Osama bin Laden's central organization, it would underscore the group's determination to strike in the US. But the fact that none of the devices exploded or otherwise caused harm may signal that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla (AQAP), as the group is known, has so far failed to develop the expertise necessary to carry out attacks abroad.

AQAP, which has seen an increase in foreign jihadist involvement, recently published online its second edition of English language magazine, Inspire, in which it highlights the importance of targeting Americans.

“The problem, though, is that the appearance and set-up of the bombs look amateurish, which could indicate that Samir Khan, who created Inspire Magazine, and his band of inexperienced AQAP members were behind the attacks since Khan has no military, bomb training, or field experience,” says Aaron Zelin, an Al Qaeda researcher at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Dubai acted on intelligence tip

According to a statement from the official Emirati news outlet, Dubai security had received an intelligence tip about the possibility of explosive devices hidden in packages onboard the FedEx flight from Yemen to Dubai. “A team from Dubai police disposed of the explosive device," it said.

According to a Yemeni official who spoke anonymously on account of not being authorized to speak to the press, "packages and cargo that were supposedly bound to the US are being inspected as part of an ongoing inspection."

The FedEx office in Sanaa refused to talk to media about the incident, and according to an employee from UPS’s office the company “doesn’t have the right to give out any information until they complete the investigation.”

At about 4:30 p.m. local time both the FedEx and UPS in Sanaa closed early. The UPS office was surrounded by at least 10 Yemeni soldiers.

How UPS, FedEx packages get from Yemen to the West

There is mixed information as to whether there are any direct flights from Yemen to the United Kingdom. However, what is certain is that shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS do not send their own planes to Yemen for security reasons. Instead they use cargo flights of commercial airlines to ship parcels out of Yemen.

According to an employee of a cargo company at Sanaa International Airport today, the shipping companies as well as Sanaa airport security are responsible for screening all packages leaving Yemen.

Yemeni airport security already has a bad record in Yemen after Nigerian national Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, left from Sanaa with explosives in December 2009.

This story was updated at 11:23 a.m. ET.

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