The ‘Package Plot’ – From Yemen without Love

San'a View of the City

San'a View of the City

If you’ve followed the story of the bombs sent in packages from Yemen to the United States, you can’t help but wonder about a few things.

David Cameron says according to the BBC:

Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed that a device sent from Yemen and found on a US-bound cargo plane was a bomb.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he believed the device was designed to explode on board the aircraft.

Obviously, the didn’t explode or were intercepted before they could, but if that is forensically secured knowledge, why then were they addressed to Jewish synagogues in Chicago and why are some still saying the synagogues were the target? As the New York Times does today, for example:

CHICAGO — Even to a block that is arguably one of the safest and most secure in the country, the news that two parcels containing explosives were shipped from Yemen and addressed to synagogues or Jewish community centers in the city gave some residents pause on Saturday.


Reports that Chicago-area synagogues or Jewish community centers were likely targets of a terrorist attack and the return of President Obama to his hometown this weekend brought attention to the city’s security.

You can’t have it both ways. The bombs either were designed to explode on the planes, or were targeted at the Jewish synagogues they were addressed to, but it can’t be both.

There is more that doesn’t add up – at least not yet. In the Berner Zeitung, a Swiss newspaper, we read today:

A human rights organisation in Yemen doesn’t believe that the young woman detained in relation with the packets containing explosives and addressed to the United States have anything to do with it. He didn’t believe in the official version, according to which the accused had left here mobile number on the packet slips, Abdel Rahmane of the organisation Hood told APF on Sunday.  “We know for sure that al-Qaeda never leaves traces”.


In the mean time the website of one of the synagogues, to which the packages from Yemen are believed to have been addressed, is said to have been visited lately often by a user from Egypt. The web-admistrator of the synagogue had noticed recently that the website had been visited 83 times in one day by someone from Egypt, as the Wall Street Journal wrote, citing the Rabbi of the Emmanuel community in Chicago, Michael Zedek.

It seems the Rabbi is very well-informed as well, as he told the same newspaper that according to his information, there were four and not two package bombs addressed to synagogues in Chicago. How does he know? From a source. Ok, thanks for sharing.

As of today, neither the FBI nor the DOJ have made official statements available on their respective websites, I guess that’s because they are busy investigating and don’t have time to release rumours, but then, I may be deluded because that would assume that they are not somehow politically influenced. The FBI, by the way, or its Joint Terrorism Task Force to be more precise, is rumoured by PressTV to have stated that “the two packages intercepted in Britain en route to the US contain no explosives”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original of that FBI statement, but it would fit in well with earlier press reports that this was a dry run of sorts – you wouldn’t put use real explosives in a dry run, would you. From CBS News Interactive:

NEW YORK (WJZ/AP) ― Investigators are probing whether a string of suspicious packages was a dry run for a mail bomb blot, according to a U.S. official.

A suspicious package containing a toner cartridge with wires and powder was found during routine screening of cargo in the United Kingdom, prompting authorities to scour three planes and a truck in the United States on Friday.

Two planes were searched in Philadelphia along with one in Newark, N.J. Two delivery trucks were also examined in New York City. No explosives were found in either the U.S. or the U.K.
The early focus of the investigation centers on Yemen. A Joint Terrorism Task Force source tells CBS News that investigators are looking for between 10-20 packages shipped out of the UPS office in Sanna, Yemen.

So, the bottom line so far is that it is not clear what exactly happened, what was supposed to happen and who was behind if – if anything was supposed to happen at all. That doesn’t keep Janet Napolitano to state with confidence that:

The parcel bombs sent from Yemen destined for the United States have hallmarks of the militant group al Qaeda or its affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Saturday.

“I think we would agree with that, that it does contain all the hallmarks of al Qaeda and in particular al Qaeda AP,” she said in an interview on ABC News.

Please note the “I think we would agree”, which indicates that there are no facts available and that her statement is a foregone conclusion and not the result of any forensic investigation by law enforcement. We are also told by Reuters, that a Saudi-born bombmaker is being ‘eyed’ by the US as the likely responsible behind these bombs and the Christmas attack of 2009. The Reuters article even links to a Saudi provided list of names of its citizens, which are wanted as extremists. Curiously, Osama bin Laden hasn’t made it onto that list -at least as far as I can tell. Maybe under another name?

The New York Times, in the meantime, points out the plot had been foiled because of Saudi tips:

For many in the West, Saudi Arabia remains better known as a source of terrorism than as a partner in defeating it. It is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Yet Western intelligence officials say the Saudis’ own experience with jihadists has helped them develop powerful surveillance tools and a broad network of informers that has become increasingly important in the global battle against terrorism.

This month, Saudi intelligence warned of a possible terrorist attack in France by Al Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis have brought similar intelligence reports about imminent threats to at least two other European countries in the past few years, and have played an important role in identifying terrorists in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Kuwait, according to Saudi and Western intelligence officials.

“This latest role is one in a series of Saudi intelligence contributions,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “They can be helpful because so much is going on in their backyard, and because they have a limitless budget to develop their abilities.”


Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism program differs from its Western counterparts in striking ways. It includes a familiar “hard” element of commando teams that kill terrorists, along with vastly expanded surveillance. The streets of major Saudi cities are continuously watched by cameras, and most Internet traffic goes through a central point that facilitates monitoring.

But the program also has a softer side aimed at re-educating jihadists and weaving them back into Saudi society. The government runs a rehabilitation program for terrorists, including art therapy and efforts to find jobs and wives for the former convicts. The program suffered an embarrassment last year when two of its graduates, who had also been in Guantánamo, fled the country and became leading figures in Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch.

You could also phrase the Saudi role this way: First they create the terrorists and then they go after them with their vast intelligence and security resources. I wonder what the Saudi definition of extremist is anyway. It seems that another takeaway from this NYT piece is that Western societies could be much more successful in fighting their own homegrown extremism – Islamist and other – if they only just copied what Saudi Arabia does. I am sure that will work, as Saudi Arabia is a very authoritarian monarchy and Western country – or their elites – do strive to go into that same direction.