Cargo plane bomb would have detonated over Canada, not the US, say new reports

According to new reports, the UPS flight carrying one of the intercepted cargo plane bombs from Yemen last month would have been on a route that placed it over Canada when the detonation was set to occur.

Ina Fassbender/Reuters
United Parcel Service (UPS) cargo planes are seen in the cargo area of Cologne/Bonn airport near Cologne October 31, 2010. A bomb found on a U.S.-bound cargo plane in Britain was trans-shipped at Cologne Bonn airport in Germany on its outward journey from Yemen.

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The US-bound flight that carried one of the parcel bombs from Yemen would likely have been detonated over Canada, not the US, had it not been intercepted late last month, according to new reports.

Previous reports, including a statement by British investigators, said the bomb could have been detonated over the east coast of the US, but flight data shows that UPS flight 232 does not always take the same path and would have actually been over Canada at the time, the Washington Post reports.

Online flight monitor indicates that the planned route for Oct. 29 would have passed by Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec, and Ontario before reaching its US destination, according to the Canadian PostMedia news.

The bomb was one of two intercepted last month, one in East Midlands, England, and the other in the Dubai airport. Though the parcels were addressed to Jewish groups in Chicago, officials say they were prepared to detonate in flight.

The Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken credit for the bombing attempts and vowed that it will send more.

"The assumption is they were trying to explode the plane over the US, but when you send something by cargo, you don't control all the variables," a US official said, according to the Washington Post. The Post adds that US and British officials had already concluded that the bombs were designed to go off in flight rather than their final destinations, though the latest news shows more precisely where they were intended to go off and suggests that the plotters had used Internet information to determine when the bomb would be over the US. The UPS flight’s destination was Philadelphia.

The Associated Press reports that new British statements on their initial handling of the bomb suggests that authorities may have unintentionally disarmed the bomb when they first encountered it. In their statement, the British Scotland Yard says they disrupted the explosive when they first handled the package and examined it.

But on that day, the AP notes, British authorities had originally announced that they had found no explosives and had lifted a security cordon from the cargo depot where the bomb had come from. (They reestablished the security cordon hours later when news emerged of the discovery of a similar bomb in Dubai.) But in the new Wednesday statement, British officials announced that they disrupted the bomb early in the morning, before they had announced that they had not found any explosives.

Officials have said they do not doubt that the bombs had enough explosive material to bring the planes down, the Post adds. The explosives had been crammed into printer cartridges and then disguised as normal packages. American authorities have long been aware of the explosive the would-be bombers used – pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) – and as far back as 1988 Congress named it as a material that should be detected, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

But while American scanners are designed to catch the substance on luggage X-rays, cargo flights from abroad are at risk, the Monitor added. Some countries suspended air cargo shipments from Yemen immediately following the emergence of the bomb attempts.

The intercepted bombs were sophisticated: “They appear to be put together by someone who knows how to construct powerful bombs,” Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at John Jay College in New York, told the Monitor.

--- The original version of this roundup misstated the findings of British investigators.

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