Cargo planes and trucks in several U.S. cities were inspected Friday after investigators found suspicious packages in at least two locations abroad, law enforcement sources said.
U.S. officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, commonly referred to as AQAP, is behind the plot.
One suspicious package, found in the United Kingdom, contained a “manipulated” toner cartridge but tested negative for explosive material, the source said. It led to heightened inspection of arriving cargo flights in Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a UPS truck in New York.
The package had white powder on it as well as wires and a circuit board; someone shipped it from Sanaa, Yemen, with a final destination of unnamed synagogues in Chicago, Illinois. A similar package has been discovered in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, the source said.
The suspicious package from Yemen had wires and a circuit board, a law enforcement source said. A Yemeni diplomat in Washington said his government has opened a full-scale investigation into the incident but it was too early to speculate or reach any conclusions.
Investigators were looking for a “possible nexus to terrorism,” a U.S. official said.
“We are taking this very seriously,” he added.
The US Department of Homeland Security said it “had taken a number of steps to enhance security,” including “heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports.”
“Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others,” DHS said in a statement. “As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement.”
Some Jewish religious leaders in Chicago were alerted Friday, said Linda Haase, spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
In the United Kingdom, police were investigating the suspicious package at a freight distribution center at East Midlands Airport, about 100 miles north of London, said airport spokesman Russell Craig. Officials said they were not certain how the package arrived there, whether by air or land.
Authorities seemed most focused on inspecting cargo planes.
Investigators examined two UPS planes that landed at Philadelphia International Airport and another at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, said Mike Mangeot, a UPS spokesman. Authorities later gave the “all-clear” at the airport in Newark, U.S. and U.K. officials said.
Authorities are focusing on flights coming from Yemen into the United States, according to the source.
The US Transportation and Security Administration said authorities acted “out of an abundance of caution.”
“The planes were moved to a remote location where they are being met by law enforcement officials and swept,” the administration said in a statement.
UPS said it is cooperating with authorities, and its shipment is being removed from the aircraft.
In Philadelphia, three people aboard one plane were removed from the aircraft and scanned with negative results, the Philadelphia Fire Department said. The type of material that may be involved is not known, officials said.
In Newark, investigators examined another UPS plane, Mangeot said. Police determined that there was no threat.
After having a suspicious package confiscated at its Dubai facility, Memphis-based FedEx released a statement saying that the company is cooperating with the FBI and as an additional safety measure has blocked all shipments coming from Yemen.
Peter Neumann, a terrorism analyst with Kings College New York said, “It is not a bomb bit it’s a sinister device which in my view very strongly seems to indicate that we were dealing with dummy devices.”
The National Yemen has since learned that Yemeni security agencies have forcibly closed the UPS and FedEx offices in Yemen.
In New York, the bomb squad responded to a report of a suspected explosive device inside a package aboard a UPS truck, said deputy police commissioner Paul Browne. Police later concluded that the truck at the Metro Tech Center facility contained nothing harmful.