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Security officials in several countries dismissed a statement by France’s Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux that one of the bombs mailed from Yemen to the United States may have been defused only 17 minutes before it was set to go off.
The question of when the bombs were scheduled to go off is critical to understanding the attackers’ intent. Determining the scheduled detonation time will allow investigators to figure out whether the bombs were meant to blow up the synagogues they were addressed to in Chicago or explode mid-flight, potentially in American airspace.
“There were parcel bombs from Yemen heading for the United States, and I can tell you, for example, that one of these parcels was disarmed 17 minutes before the planned explosion,” Mr. Hortefeux said in an interview Thursday with France 2 television reports Agence France-Presse.
International officials say it is unclear where exactly Hortefeux received this information. In the United Kingdom, the US, and the United Arab Emirates officials have all cast doubt on the French Interior Minister’s claim. Speaking of one of the two bombs that was discovered in the UK, one British official told the Guardian that the device was “still being examined by scientists, and that investigators were not yet sure when and where the terrorists had intended to detonate it.” Of the other bomb discovered in Dubai, a UAE official said Hortefeux’s assessment was “not correct.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that the bomb discovered in his country was set to explode mid-flight when the plane was over the Atlantic. Investigators came to this conclusion in part because the addresses for the synagogues that the packages were intended for were out of date, reports Al Jazeera.
The bomb makers may have conducted a test shipment in mid-September when US investigators seized packages of books and CDs sent from Yemen to Chicago. The Daily Telegraph reports that this shipment may have been used to time when the plane would be flying over the Atlantic and thus when best to detonate a package carrying explosives.
The bombs were hidden inside printers with the explosive charges concealed inside the printer cartridges. The bomb makers used 300 to 400 grams (10 to 14 ounces) of pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, which made the bombs difficult to detect and also provided enough power to create a sizable explosion. The charges were then wired to cellular phones without SIM cards, creating speculation that the bombs likely would have been detonated by the phones’ timers, reports the BBC.
Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi thought to be living in Yemen, is still believed to be the person responsible for making the bombs.
Russia’s RTT News reports that terrorism has been on the rise in Yemen since January 2009, when Al Qaeda’s Yemeni and Saudi branches combined forces to create Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a franchise of the Al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden. The merger was sparked by Saudi security forces cracking down on Al Qaeda members within their borders, causing many members of the group to flee to Yemen.