News / Middle East

Yemen Cargo Bomb Plot Sparks Stringent US Security Rules

A cargo plane is loaded at the FedEx distribution center at the International Cargo Airport in Cologne, western Germany, 01 Nov 2010
A cargo plane is loaded at the FedEx distribution center at the International Cargo Airport in Cologne, western Germany, 01 Nov 2010

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Jennifer Glasse

British police say a cargo bomb found on board a plane originating from Yemen last month was timed to explode while the plane was over the United States.  The incident has led to air cargo rules that could significantly affect businesses.

Scotland Yard issued a statement saying a forensic examination of an explosive device taken off a plane in central England shows it would have detonated while in flight.

Aviation analyst Chris Yates says the likely plan was for it to explode over the United States.  

"If these devices hadn't been stopped in motion, then they would have detonated somewhere over the eastern seaboard of the United States," said Yates.

Analysts say the bomb was disguised as a printer toner cartridge and was detected only because of an intelligence tip.

Because the explosive was odorless and colorless and looked much like toner ink, and the electronics were similar to those in a normal printer cartridge, regular security screening would not have identified it.

Since the plot was discovered, the United States, Britain, France and Germany have suspended flights from Yemen.

Analyst Chris Yates says additional security measures are preventing cargo from being shipped from Yemen and Somalia.

"We have instigated an enhanced screening regime on cargo, air freight coming from places like Pakistan, India and so forth and that's about as much as we can do at the moment," said Yates.

Shipping agents and representatives here in Britain were reluctant to discuss on the record new air security rules being introduced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  But documents obtained by VOA state that new regulations will ban air shipments to the United States of all elevated risk cargo.  That includes personal effects and household goods, shipments paid for with cash, check or cash-on-delivery, or from a company that does not have an existing account with the shipper.

Federal Express spokeswoman Sandra Munoz read from a prepared statement and would not comment on how the regulations might affect businesses.

"FedEx has extensive measures in place; we're always enhancing our capabilities," said Munoz.  "But our first priority must always be to focus on tactics that are effective."

Munoz said cargo security relies on close cooperation between the private sector and government security agencies.

Aviation analyst Chris Yates says European businesses are at a disadvantage.  He says they bear most of the costs of security as opposed to businesses in the United States, where the government pays for security.  Yates points out that much of the world's air cargo is carried on passenger planes.

"There's a big debate going on between, for example, the United States and Europe as to how you can effectively screen every single piece of air freight for a passenger jet in the time that is available, in the space that is available.  It's a complex process," added Yates.

The new U.S. cargo rules go into effect November 15.

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