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Top US Official: Bomb Plot Has 'Hallmarks' of al-Qaida

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (file photo)
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (file photo)
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Nico Colombant

U.S. authorities say thwarted mail bomb attacks this week carry the "hallmarks" of al-Qaida's terrorist branch in Yemen. U.S. officials have been reaching out to other countries as part of their investigation.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the bombs sent from Yemen destined for the United States in her words "contained all the hallmarks of al-Qaida" and in particular its affiliate al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

She said it was too early to tell if the packages which appeared to contain plastic explosives were meant to detonate while airborne on the cargo planes or when they reached their intended destinations at Jewish centers in Chicago.

Officials say the attacks were thwarted Friday when authorities seized the packages as the massive cargo planes operated by U.S. companies Fedex and the United Parcel Service were parked in the United Arab Emirates and Britain.

Preliminary tests are reported to indicate both packages contained PETN, a powerful industrial explosive, the same chemical said to have been used in a failed attack on a Detroit-bound plane last year.

President Barack Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to discuss the attacks and the ongoing international investigation, which is also involving authorities in Yemen.

President Obama's homeland security adviser, John Brennan, spoke to President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen.

A White House statement said Brennan emphasized the United States is ready to assist the Yemeni government and people in their fight against al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula.

U.S. officials say the packages were initially discovered based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence.

A former U.S. intelligence official with the U.S.-based risk mitigation consulting firm TD International, William Ross Newland, said he is not surprised the attempted attack came so close to U.S. Congressional elections Tuesday. "I do not think it is coincidental. I mean al-Qaida pulled off its most spectacular bombing in Spain right before their election, March 11, years ago, which had a direct effect on the election in Spain. I think they are very conscious of these things and try to use these acts as a way to exert pressure and bring about instability," he said.

In those elections in 2004, opposition Socialists in Spain defied predictions by winning.

Tuesday, opposition Republicans will try to regain control of Congress, currently dominated by President Obama's Democratic Party.

The U.S. campaign has revolved much more around the economy and government spending, than terrorism concerns.

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