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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid