Two suspected Al-Qaeda parcels from Yemen intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago contained powerful explosives that could have exploded, authorities in Dubai and London said, as Yemeni authorities arrested a suspect in the plot. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that after examination of the device found at East Midlands airport in central England, British authorities "believe that the device was designed to go off on the airplane". "There is no early evidence it was designed to take place over British soil but of course we cannot rule that out," the prime minister added.


In Dubai, police said that the bomb found there contained the powerful high explosive PETN - the same substance used by would-be 2009 Christmas Day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Dubai police chief General Dahi Khalfan said: "This was a parcel bomb and a terrorist act could have occurred," adding that the device could have "exploded" on board the airplane had it not been intercepted in time. The device consisted of a computer printer whose ink contained explosive material, connected to a mobile phone SIM card and a circuit board, a police statement said. The statement said it "bears the hallmarks of those used by terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda." The parcel was flown in from the Yemeni capital Sanaa via Doha in Qatar on a Federal Express aircraft, an Emirati aviation official later said.


In Yemen, security forces yesterday arrested a woman "suspected of sending two parcel bombs", after surrounding her house in the capital Sanaa, the defence ministry said, without providing further details. President Ali Abdullah Saleh - who had announced that the suspect's house had been surrounded - said his country was "determined to fight terror but will not allow anyone to intervene in its affairs".


News of the arrest came shortly after Cameron and US President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser both called Saleh to urge his "close" counterterrorism cooperation following the bomb plot. Obama also called King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh provided the tip-off for the discovery of the bombs. Obama has pointed the finger for the plot at Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network. Yemeni authorities also announced the seizure of 26 other parcels and said they were being examined.


October 29, 2010



Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk


Although the matter is still being investigated by various countries' authorities, the incident represents a major development in the way AQAP operates. Political Capital has during past years warned that AQAP appears to be gaining strength and represents a threat not only to Yemen, but also the rest of the Gulf. The success with which AQAP had in delivering explosives to Dubai and Britain takes the conflict to a whole new level.


AQAP has a growing base of support in Yemen, particularly in the south, where many view themselves as under occupation by the north. AQAP has succeeded in becoming a focal point for the southerners. Although the mostly north-dominated central government is attempting to fight them, the task the government faces is very complicated and much more serious than a straight-forward fight against Al Qaeda. The wide extent to which AQAP has support in the country now means the only chance of success, short of a major international intervention, is to claim back the grass root support AQAP has won. This can only be achieved by a rapid concession by the central government to give the southerners more rights, government and army roles. The current regime is unlikely to undertake such drastic action. The situation appears to be rapidly heading towards a break-up of the country, with AQAP increasingly powerful not only in Yemen, but in the rest of the Gulf.