Suspicious packages found in US, UK planes
Possibly a dry run for a plot to send bombs through the mail
By RANDY PENNELL
PHILADELPHIA — A U.S. official says authorities are investigating whether a string of suspicious packages was a dry run for a plot to send bombs through the mail.
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.
Searches were conducted in Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and New York City, but no explosives were found. All the packages believed to be suspicious came from Yemen and were being sent via UPS.
Yemen is the home of the al-Qaida branch that claimed responsibility for an attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
Officials found a suspicious item during a basic security screening process in the United Kingdom, according to a U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
U.K. officials discovered that a toner cartridge on the plane had been manipulated and found wires attached to it and white powder. Tests on the device came back negative for explosives, according to a law enforcement official who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
All the packages being investigated in the U.S. originated from a specific address in Yemen that is connected to the suspicious device found in the U.K., the law enforcement official said. The official would not say where in Yemen the package came from.
Concerns about the possibility of similar and potentially dangerous devices shipped elsewhere prompted officials to check other cargo headed to the U.S.
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Kristin Lee says the planes in Philadelphia and Newark were swept. The planes were moved away from terminal buildings so law enforcement officials could investigate.
Two Philadelphia jets belonging to UPS were searched. A federal law enforcement official, who was not authorized to provide information on the investigation, told the AP that nothing suspicious was found on them.
A source with knowledge of the situation in Newark who was not authorized to speak said the FBI and a bomb squad checked two packages there and gave the "all clear."
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that the NYPD removed a package from a UPS truck in Brooklyn, tested it for possible explosives and found it not to be dangerous. The package was an envelope that came from Yemen, appeared to contain bank receipts, and was addressed to the JP Morgan Chase bank in Brooklyn, Kelly said. The package arrived on a plane that landed at Kennedy Airport, he said.
Yemeni authorities reached by the AP declined to comment. Many offices were closed because Friday is a day off in Yemen.
Mike Mangeot, a spokesman for Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc., said two planes in Philadelphia that had come from Cologne, Germany, and Paris were being investigated.
"Out of an abundance of caution, those aircraft have been isolated, and they are looking into the shipments in question there," he said.
A third plane had arrived in Newark, N.J., from East Midlands airport in England. That plane was cleared and flew to UPS' main hub in Louisville, Ky., on its usual route, Mangeot said.
In central England, police had evacuated a freight distribution building at East Midlands Airport after a suspicious package was reported at 3:30 a.m. Police and emergency workers examined the package and lifted the security cordon by midmorning, but Leicestershire Constabulary later said officers were re-examining it "as a precaution."
Sarah Furbank, a passenger who was about to board a plane out of East Midlands Airport, said that she had noticed an increased security presence.
There were "quite a few police cars round the edge" of the airport, Furbank told The Associated Press. "Apparently there was an incident earlier according to staff but they didn't go into detail."