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

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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs