INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO. 687
From the sketchy details available so far regarding two packages containing materials for explosive devices found on October 29,2010, on two cargo flights reportedly emanating from Yemen and bound for Chicago via Dubai and East Midlands airport in the UK, the following preliminary observations are possible:
• Normally, courier companies do not accept closed packages. The packages have to be kept open at the time of handing them over so that their contents could be checked for any suspicious material. The fact that the suspicious materials were not detected at the time of handing over the packages would indicate the possible complicity of some employees of the two courier companies.
• It is not clear whether the materials for the two explosive devices had been assembled and made ready for detonation at the targeted places. It has been reported that the two packages were meant to reach two Jewish places of worship. The explosive devices----if the assembly was complete---- were not meant to explode during the flights. The effect would have been limited since the two were courier aircraft with no commercial passengers. The terrorists do not appear to have intended to cause mass casualty incidents during the flights similar to the explosions on board an aircraft of Air India (Kanishka) off Ireland in 1985 and an aircraft of Pan Am off Scotland ( Lockerbie) in 1988.
• Presuming the packages had reached their destination in Chicago undetected, how did the terrorists intend to activate them? Were they meant to explode through spring action or other such device as the packages were being opened or did they intend causing an explosion through a mobile telephone before the packages were opened?
• It has been reported that the Saudi authorities had alerted the security agencies of the UK and the US about the presence of the suspicious packages and that was how these were detected and deactivated. How did the Saudi authorities come to know about it? Through moles in Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose hand is suspected or through informants in the courier companies, who had knowledge of the packages?
• The AQAP seems determined to carry out a terrorist strike directed against targets associated with the US. It is likely that the focus of the attention of the Indian security agencies, which would be responsible for making security arrangements for the forthcoming visit of President Barack Obama to India, would be on likely threats from India and the Af-Pak region. It is important to pay equal attention to likely threats from Al Qaeda elements outside the Af-Pak region such as the AQAP, Al Qaeda in Somalia and Al Qaeda in Maghreb.
2.This may please be read in continuation of my following articles:
(a). Article dated July 7,2010, titled Singapore and Al Qaeda: International Terrorism Monitor --- Paper No. 662” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers40%5Cpaper3910.html
(b). Article dated December 29,2009, titled “Obama: Al Qaeda Comes Home Calling - International Terrorism Monitor --- Paper No. 597” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers36%5Cpaper3575.html
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )