An international terrorist alert over a possible al-Qaeda parcel bomb threat to synagogues has been triggered following the discovery of a package containing explosive material at a British airport.
The white powder on the toner cartridge in the bomb scare Photo:
The suspected plot was uncovered by MI6 after a tip-off to one of its officers responsible for Yemen, which has become a key battleground in the fight against Islamic terrorists.
On Friday, airports in the United States were on high alert after parcels containing explosive material, and addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were discovered on cargo aircraft at East Midlands airport and in Dubai.
Barack Obama, the US President, confirmed the packages sent from Yemen and intercepted in Dubai and the East Midlands had contained explosive material.
The US President said the devices represented a "credible terrorist threat against our country".
John Brennan, Mr Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said the "birdbox" packages were "designed to do harm".
"Clearly from this initial analysis the materials that were found in the device that was uncovered were intended to do harm," he told reporters at the White House.
Asked whether Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical US-Yemeni cleric, was suspected of being involved, Mr Brennan said all people with known links to al-Qaeda in the country were being discussed.
The "sinister" parcel at East Midlands, contained in a UPS container, comprised what police described as a "manipulated" computer printer cartridge, which was covered in white powder and had wires protruding from it.
The device initially tested negative for traces of explosives but it was understood that a further search uncovered a second suspicious package containing a "cleverly hidden" device in a printer, which included a mobile phone as one of its components.
Officials in the US last night said that early indications were that the packages contained PETN, the chemical used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the failed Christmas Day plane bombing in Detroit.
The white-powdered substance is commonly used in detonation material for industrial explosions. It was also part of the device used in 2001 by Richard Reid, the "shoe-bomber" who failed to blow up a plane bound for Miami.
There were reports that up to 20 similar suspect packages had been sent from Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, targeting synagogues in the US.
Mr Obama said: "Initial examination of these packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material."
US officials were investigating three theories: that the packages contained viable devices; that they were part of a dry run for a parcel bomb plot; or that they were a hoax designed to cause panic in the US before midterm elections. Mr Brennan said that a "traditional dry-run" would not ordinarily involve the use of explosive materials.
Mr Obama ordered a security clampdown across the US after the discovery of the parcel at East Midlands. Aircraft were grounded in Philadelphia and New York.
The alert increased the focus on the threat emanating from Yemen, which was where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was caught trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight to Detroit last Christmas, said he had been trained.
US officials said the Yemeni-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) would be at the top of the list of suspects if any terrorism links were confirmed. Mr Brennan described AQAP as "the most active operational franchise" of the terrorist group.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said all direct flights from Yemen to Britain had been grounded. Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, pinpointed the country as a security concern in his first public speech on Thursday.
There is particular concern over al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda leader and US national who is based in Yemen and uses the internet to broadcast propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English.
Sermons by al-Awlaki, who has been described as the "bin Laden of the internet", were attended by some of the September 11 hijackers.
Faisal Shahzad, who admitted to attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square earlier this year, said he had been inspired by al-Awlaki,
Sources told The Daily Telegraph that MI6 began the security operation after receiving information from a source in Yemen. Following the tip-off, Leicestershire police found the package on a cargo plane at East Midlands airport at about 3.30am.
Scotland Yard's counter terrorism command, which took over the investigation, confirmed that several items had been taken away for analysis.
Mrs May said there was nothing to suggest that any location in Britain was being targeted. "A suspect package was discovered during a search of a cargo flight at East Midlands airport," she said. "The package originated in Yemen and was addressed to a US destination.
"We are considering what steps need to be put in place regarding security of freight originating from Yemen. For security reasons, there are currently no direct flights from Yemen to the UK."
The parcels appear to have been shipped by UPS and FedEx. Using the tracking numbers of all packages sent in a consignment from Sanna, which had been split as it made its way to the US, authorities began checking all other possible suspect packages.
Two UPS jets in Philadelphia and a third jet in Newark, New Jersey, that had flown in from Germany and France were moved away from terminal buildings. No explosives were found.
In Brooklyn, New York, police examined a package from a UPS lorry, but found nothing suspicious.
A spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Chicago said it was alerted early yesterday and had advised local synagogues to take security precautions.
A White House spokesman said: “Intelligence and law enforcement agencies discovered potential suspicious packages on two planes in transit to the United States. “Based on close co-operation among US government agencies and with our foreign allies and partners, authorities were able to identify and examine two suspicious packages, one in London and one in Dubai.
“Both of these packages originated from Yemen. As a result of security precautions triggered by this threat, the additional measures were taken regarding the flights at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International Airports.”
There was a dispute over airline security earlier this week when senior figures in the industry, including Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, said Britain should stop “kowtowing” to excessive US security demands.
The latest developments will only increase security measures, especially surrounding cargo planes. The threat level in Britain was raised from substantial to “severe” in March partly as a result of an increased threat from Yemen.
Don't worry, Muslim Obama and John Brennan, another Muslim lover are on the job protecting Americans. Just don't call this another threat by Muslim extremist. Al-qaida is fine but then isn't Al-qaida Muslims?