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

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

NYC mayor says, 'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' yet blizzard warnings, travel bans remain for several East Coast states More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid