US President Barack Obama said Friday that suspicious packages sent from Yemen to the US apparently contained explosives, and that they were intended for Jewish institutions in Chicago.
Meanwhile, US security sources said they ruled out the possibility that the explosives were bound for a synagogue situated near Obama's house in Chicago.
Obama said investigators had discovered a "credible terrorist threat" against the United States and that security would be increased in response to the incident for as long as it takes. He said the parcels were bound for "two places of Jewish worship in Chicago."
Speaking at the White House, Obama said Yemen's president had pledged to cooperate in the investigation. Obama expressed suspicions that a militant group called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is behind the incident, saying the group continues to plot attacks against the United States.
The Yemeni government has expressed astonishment at reports linking it to two explosive packages found on cargo planes bound for the US.
In a statement distributed to journalists and appearing on the official website, the government said there were no UPS cargo planes that had taken off from Yemen or any indirect or direct flights to British or American airports.
The packages were found in Dubai and the United Kingdom. Obama said an initial examination has determined that "they do apparently contain explosive material." The devices were uncovered using intelligence information handed over to the United States by Saudi Arabia, the White House said.
Obama pledged US officials will spare no effort to find the source of the packages and any additional plots.
Checking for explosives (Photo: Reuters)
Jewish groups warned ahead of time
Michael Kotzin, vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, told Ynet Friday that synagogues and other locations associated with Judaism were asked to check their mail with additional care even before the bomb threat surfaced.
Kotzin said the first warning came regarding packages originating in Yemen, and later came warnings regarding Saudi Arabia and additional countries.
"We need to be careful on all days of the year, not just today," he said. "We remind synagogues and Jewish institutions every once in a while to be alert and aware of the dangers, and provide lectures on this issue – how to act when such information is received."
The Anti-Defamation League also stated Friday that it had been notified by law enforcement officials that Jewish institutions may be targeted soon. The league also reported mention of warnings against packages arriving from Britain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. In response, the organization ordered Jewish facilities to remain alert.
'Terrorists were performing trial run'
One of the suspicious packages was found on a United Parcel Service cargo plane at East Midlands Airport, about 260 km north of London. The other was discovered at a FedEx Corp facility in Dubai.
British police said an item found on the UPS plane was sent for further testing. CNN said it was an ink toner cartridge converted into a bomb.
Before Obama spoke, an FBI source had told Reuters that initial tests in Britain revealed no explosives.
In the United States, UPS planes were checked in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The Transportation Security Administration said they were searched "out of an abundance of caution."
US officials and some analysts speculated that the suspicious parcels may have been a test of cargo screening procedures and the reaction of security officials.
"One possibility, if this is terrorism related, is that this may be a trial run," one US official said.
Intelligence about the possible plot had come from an ally abroad, the official said, without elaborating.
The US Department of Homeland Security said it was stepping up aviation security measures as a result of the scare. The British government said it was "too soon to say" whether it would follow suit but was "urgently considering" what steps to take about freight coming from Yemen.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan later told reporters that the explosives "were in a form that was designed to try to carry out some type of attack," but he provided no further details.
"The forensic analysis is under way," he said, adding, "Clearly from the initial observation, the initial analysis that was done, the materials that were found in the device that was uncovered was intended to do harm."
Yitzhak Benhorin and AP contributed to this report
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