Napolitano: Terror Plot Has 'Hallmarks Of Al-Qaida'
GUY RAZ, host:
A day after authorities intercepted those two package bombs from Yemen bound for the U.S., the search is on for possible culprits.
Here's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano earlier today.
Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Homeland Security): It does contain all the hallmarks of Al-Qaida and in particular, Al-Qaida AP - AQAP.
RAZ: That's Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group's arm in Yemen. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here with the latest from the investigation.
Dina, what are law-enforcement officials telling you?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Secretary Napolitano indicated the focus right now is on this group in Yemen. And there are two areas that they're sort of looking at: suspects and more packages.
The president of Yemen held a press conference earlier today, and he said that Yemeni forces had arrested a woman they suspected sent the packages. And I'd heard from another source last night that there were two women potentially involved.
You know, it's really hard to tell from this distance what they've got. It usually takes a couple of days to sort through some of the public information that comes out of Yemen on terrorism, so we kind of need to wait on that.
And at the same time, you know, the search is going on for packages that might contain other bombs bound for the U.S. Authorities think they've accounted for all the packages here in the U.S. that came from Yemen, and now they're sort of branching out and searching in Yemen and in European countries. They have, apparently, 26 packages they haven't been able to account for, and they're looking for those.
And then finally, FBI forensic teams have fanned out to every cargo shipping company in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, and they're trying to find any forensic evidence of explosives that might help lead them to the people who were behind this.
RAZ: It's amazing how much of this is sort of spreading around the world. But judging from what Secretary Napolitano said this morning, it does seem that the focus is on al-Qaida's arm in Yemen.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. The White House's top terrorism official, John Brennan, said yesterday that the U.S. suspected this group AQAP was behind it. You have to remember, this is the same group that sent that young Nigerian to blow up a U.S. airliner last Christmas Day. And he had an explosive, called PETN, sewn into his underwear. And he was supposed to ignite it with a chemical accelerant and then bring down the plane, but it malfunctioned and he ended up just really burning himself.
Now, preliminary tests indicate that PETN is the explosive that was used in these two packages they found yesterday. That's in the same chemical family as nitroglycerin, just to give you an idea of how potent it is.
RAZ: Are there other reasons, aside from the type of explosive chosen, to point to this branch of Al-Qaida?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we know that the intelligence that led the U.S. to the bombs was from Saudi Arabia. And one intelligence official told me that the Saudis are on top of AQAP - and these are the words he used - like white on rice.
I mean, the Saudis are so focused on AQAP because the group has made plain that its main target is the Saudi monarchy. AQAP is also known for creative bomb-making techniques.
A little more than a year ago, the group tried to kill the Saudi intelligence chief. The way they did that is they sent one of their high-ranking members to meet him, and said that he wanted to surrender.
And the AQAP operative had a bomb hidden inside his body. The plan ended up not working. The operative's body absorbed most of the blast, and the Saudi intelligence chief survived.
But that gives you an idea of what kind of creativity they use in putting together these kinds of operations. Apparently, these two package bombs were pretty sophisticated and powerful. And the British home secretary earlier today told reporters that it would have taken down these cargo planes.
RAZ: Wow. That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, following the investigation into that foiled plot that sent package bombs to the U.S.
Dina, thank you so much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
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