News / Middle East

Cargo Bomb Plot May Signal Al-Qaida's Strategic Shift

UPS cargo containers stand behind a security fence after they were searched by British police at the East Midlands airport, in Derby, England, 29 Oct 2010
UPS cargo containers stand behind a security fence after they were searched by British police at the East Midlands airport, in Derby, England, 29 Oct 2010
TEXT SIZE - +

U.S. and British counterterrorism officials say bombs hidden in aircraft cargo apparently originating in Yemen appear to have been designed to explode in flight.  Some intelligence analysts believe that al-Qaida is targeting Western economic infrastructure, but others say it was just going after easier targets.

Anyone who has taken a flight since September 11, 2001 is familiar with the airport security drill of walking through a metal detector, perhaps followed by a more intrusive body pat-down or scan.  But air cargo, whether flown in the hold of a passenger jet or on a commercial cargo aircraft operated by companies such as UPS, DHL or FedEx, rarely gets the same level of scrutiny.

So were the recently intercepted bombs in cargo because they would not be closely checked?  Or is Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, the group widely assumed to have dispatched the bombs, embarked on a strategic shift away from mass casualty attacks toward strikes on economic infrastructure?

Analysts believe al-Qaida has always sought to strike targets not only to inflict mass casualties, but for symbolic reasons.  Former FBI National Security Branch chief Philip Mudd says that is why al-Qaida came back to attack the World Trade Center a second time.

"It's not a stretch to suggest that these guys look at this, at this kind of attack in those strategic terms," said Mudd. "You go back further than 9/11, you look at the first World Trade Center attack in the early '90s. It's not just an attack on a vulnerable target; it's an attack on an iconic target that represents the capability of America to project power overseas - the American dollar."

Former Homeland Security intelligence chief Charles Allen says that in the terrorists' view, attacking cargo transit is a way to slow up the Western economic system by forcing nations to more closely scrutinize cargo.

"The Twin Towers was an iconic target. It was a symbol of American prowess and strength in the world," Allen said. "It also gave them the view that if they can strike blows and cripple American infrastructure, hitting American cargo, and as you know there are hundreds and thousands of flights daily, would have a very disturbing effect.  And of course there's all kinds of UPS-type materials that fly in the holds of passenger airlines."

But other analysts disagree with that view.  Glenn Carle, the former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, agrees that al-Qaida wants to hit iconic symbols.  But he believes the cargo plane plot simply means al-Qaida is being forced to go after easier targets.

"They did have this doctrine, if you can call it that, of going after symbolic icons of American and Western power, prestige, and financial and economic strength in a way that would cause mass casualties.  I think that they still will love to do that, and are probably attempting to," Carle said. "But I think they also are realists and will strike wherever they are able to do so.  And so that means you have possibly a larger number of lower order, but still terrible, threats."

Carle dismisses al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's threats to cripple Western economic infrastructure as mere bragging.

"Now, going after an economic impact, I always found, frankly, bin Laden's comments about supposed conscious intention to strike at the heart of America's financial system with the 9/11 attack to be ex-post-facto and self-glorifying," he said.

Nevertheless, former intelligence and security officials say cargo will certainly get closer scrutiny.  With the overwhelming amount of cargo shipped every day, it is not clear how that will be accomplished.  But former Homeland Security Intelligence Chief Charles Allen says that will likely entail a form of cargo profiling, where parcels from some countries will undergo especially close inspection.

Yemeni police are seen at a checkpoint in the capital San'a, Yemen, 01 Nov 2010
Yemeni police are seen at a checkpoint in the capital San'a, Yemen, 01 Nov 2010

"There will be certain packages originating from certain countries under certain circumstances that will require far additional checking," said Allen.

After the latest bombs were discovered, the Department of Homeland Security issued a notice that the flying public may see some heightened security measures at airports, including additional cargo screening and security.  Meanwhile, both FedEx and UPS announced a suspension of shipments from Yemen.

Related video report by Laurel Bowman:

You May Like

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid