Governments review air security after Yemen plot

Governments review air security after Yemen plot
# 01 November 2010 22:05 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Governments, airlines and aviation authorities around the world were reviewing security on Monday after U.S.-bound parcel bombs sent by air from Yemen were intercepted in Dubai and Britain, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron convened a crisis committee to decide Britain’s response after one of the packages was found on a United Parcel Service cargo plane at East Midlands Airport, north of London, on Friday.
The other bomb was discovered in a computer printer cartridge in a parcel at a FedEx facility in Dubai.
British authorities intervened after a tip-off from Saudi intelligence was passed on by German authorities, a German government source said.
The BBC, citing unidentified British officials, said the information came from an al Qaeda member who turned himself into Saudi authorities.
The findings disclosed what appeared to be a loophole in air cargo security that put passengers’ lives at risk.
"Air freight is still considered to be the soft underbelly of the aviation industry," aviation security expert Chris Yates told BBC television.
Qatar Airways confirmed the Dubai parcel had been transported on its passenger planes from the Yemeni capital Sanaa via Doha.
Nigeria said it would inspect all cargo heading for the United States with scanners for detecting explosives, in addition to its normal X-ray screening procedures.
Cameron said on Saturday the bomb found in Britain was designed to blow an aircraft out of the sky.
The bomb was hidden in a Hewlett Packard printer and contained 400 grams (14 ounces) of explosives, with the Dubai package holding 300 grams, the German government source said.
The plot could fuel calls for the wider use of imaging technology designed to detect explosives, which is not standard, but freight firms are reluctant to bear the full cost.
Tighter international air cargo security rules could deal a blow to trade and the world economy.
Freight firms clashed with U.S. and European policy makers last year over calls for 100 percent scanning of sea containers. Plans to introduce full scanning from 2012 were postponed.
An Israeli security expert said it would have been "nearly impossible" to spot the Yemeni bombs using standard X-ray machines.
"The structure of a printer is so dense that it is very difficult to spot explosives or a detonator through visual screening," said Yuval Amsterdam of Tamar Explosive Simulants Technologies, which produces dummy bombs for security drills.
In Sanaa, thousands of cheering Yemenis greeted the student detained briefly on suspicion of having sent the bombs.
Yemeni police arrested computer science student Hanan al-Samawi on Friday after tracing her through a telephone number left with a freight company but released her the next day, saying she had been a victim of identity theft.
A U.S. official said Saudi bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, believed to be working with al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was a key suspect.
An adviser to Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar said in London it was disappointing that intelligence information about the bombs not been given directly to Sanaa.
"We feel a little bit let down, because if such information was passed to Yemen I think we might have been able to perhaps catch these people red-handed," Mohammed Qubaty told BBC radio.
British interior minister Theresa May, who was due to brief parliament on the bomb plot later on Monday, said on Sunday security around all international air cargo arriving in Britain would be reviewed.
Britain, Germany and France have halted all air freight from Yemen. Direct flights from Yemen to Britain have also been suspended.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Europe’s largest budget airline Ryanair called for a common sense response, saying imposing further security restrictions on passengers would be ineffective.
"We’ve had ludicrous regulations in the past couple of years where we are confiscating women’s lipsticks and bottles of water over 100 ml, making people take their shoes off. It has no effect on security whatsoever," he told BBC television.
Restrictions on the carrying of liquids on planes were introduced in 2006 after the discovery of an al Qaeda-inspired plot to blow up transatlantic flights with explosive materials concealed as soft drinks.