NPR logo Cargo Packages Contained 'Explosive Materials' White House Says


Cargo Packages Contained 'Explosive Materials' White House Says

Law enforcement agents arrive at a United Parcel Service staging area at Newark Liberty International Airport, where a cargo plane was searched and a suspicious package removed Friday. Joe Epstein/FR170243 AP hide caption

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Joe Epstein/FR170243 AP

Law enforcement agents arrive at a United Parcel Service staging area at Newark Liberty International Airport, where a cargo plane was searched and a suspicious package removed Friday.

Joe Epstein/FR170243 AP

Law enforcement officials in the United States, England and Dubai are investigating several suspicious packages sent from Yemen to the United States — at least two of which the White House says contained "explosive materials."

The packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago. Details are still emerging — and more coverage of the investigation can be found here.

Here's how the story has developed:

Update at 6:56 p.m. ET: Early tests show the seized packages contain the powerful industrial explosive PETN — the same chemical used in the 2009 Christmas attack, U.S. officials have told the AP. The tests have not been confirmed.

The AP is also citing an anonymous official who says the packages were intercepted in England and Dubai after Saudi Arabia's intelligence service gave information related to Yemen to the United States.

Update at 4:45 p.m. ET: Authorities are investigating several suspicious packages sent from Yemen to the United States, in what President Obama describes as a "credible terrorist threat" to the United States. The president and members of his national security team spoke at a news conference Friday afternoon.

While clarifying that the packages contained "explosive materials," Obama and his advisers did not specifically say that the packages contained actual bombs.

Update at 3:18 p.m. ET: A U.S. official says that two military fighter jets are escorting an airliner from the Canadian border to New York, according to the AP. The plane, reportedly United Arab Emirates flight 201 from Dubai, is bound for New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport.

Update at 2:16 p.m. ET: FedEx has confiscated a suspicious package in Dubai that was shipped from Yemen, a company spokesman tells the AP. Yemen was also the source of several packages that triggered alerts about three UPS jets Friday.

A company spokesman also told the AP that FedEx "has embargoed all shipments from Yemen indefinitely."

Update at 2:05 p.m. ET: Authorities are investigating whether suspicious packages were sent from Yemen as a "dry run" for a plot to send bombs to targets in the United States, a U.S. official tells the AP.

Yemen is the home of the al-Qaida branch that claimed responsibility for an attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner last Christmas.

Update at 1:50 p.m. ET: An all-clear has been issued at Newark Airport after a UPS plane was inspected for a potential suspicious package.

And in Chicago, synagogues have been asked to be on alert following reports of suspicious packages on cargo planes, the spokeswoman for a Chicago Jewish organization tells the AP.

Reports have been emerging that some of the suspicious packages that triggered alerts at several airports were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

Linda Haase, associate vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says the group is "taking appropriate precautions'' after being contacted early Friday.

Our original post: "Bomb Squads Investigate Suspicious Items Found On UPS Cargo Flights"

Investigators are examining three cargo planes in the northeastern U.S. after a suspicious package containing an item resembling a bomb was found on a United Parcel Service cargo plane believed to be en route from Yemen to Chicago.

The flight was stopped in England late Thursday night, CNN reported. That prompted conflicting reports, with many emphasizing the likelihood that a bomb had been found.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that law enforcement officials testing the materials have not discovered any explosives.

The security alert began with the discovery of "potential suspicious packages" on two planes headed to the United States, according to a White House statement issued Friday afternoon.

The two packages were sent from Yemen, according to the statement:

Based on close cooperation among U.S. government agencies and with our foreign allies and partners, authorities were able to identify and examine two suspicious packages, one in London and one in Dubai. Both of these packages originated from Yemen. As a result of security precautions triggered by this threat, the additional measures were taken regarding the flights at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International Airports.

President Obama was notified about "a potential terrorist threat" at 10:35 Thursday night, according to the statement, which adds that the White House has received regular updates on the potential threat.

The item found on a UPS plane at England's East Midlands Airport was reportedly a "manipulated" ink toner cartridge, which had wires attached to it. Inspectors also found white powder, according to the AP. Test results for explosives were negative.

Law enforcement officials from the FBI and Transportation Security Administration examined two planes at Philadelphia International Airport and one at New Jersey's Newark airport — all of which had landed safely. They were moved off to remote areas of the airports to be inspected.

"Suspicious package reports are very common," according to Temple-Raston's report. "What is unusual about today's events is the sheer number of them and the various cities that are simultaneously involved. Officials say the checks are being done 'out of an abundance of caution.'"

According to an AP report, an official speaking on the condition of anonymity says the packages in Britain and the U.S. all originated from Yemen — possibly the same address.

The New York Police Department bomb squad also stopped a UPS truck to undergo an inspection. The AP says that an envelope from Yemen was tested for explosives and found not to be a threat.