Yemen students protest as security reviewed after plot

By Mohammad Ghobari

SANAA (BestGrowthStock) – Students protested in Yemen on Sunday against the arrest of a colleague suspected of an attempt to blow up cargo planes bound for the United States.

Governments, airlines and aviation authorities around the world are reviewing security after two parcel bombs sent from Yemen were intercepted on planes in Dubai and Britain Friday. The bombs had all the hallmarks of al Qaeda, U.S. officials say.

Yemeni police arrested the woman, believed to be in her 20s, after tracing her through a telephone number she had left with a cargo company. The student and her mother were the first people to be arrested in connection to the foiled bomb plot.

Dozens of students staged a sit-in in the courtyard of Sanaa University’s engineering faculty calling for her release.

“I don’t think anyone would carry out a major operation like this and leave behind their real contact details … I think she’s the victim of a conspiracy,” student Muhammad al-Bazili said.

A Saudi bombmaker believed to be working with al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing is a key suspect, a U.S. official said.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who tops a Saudi Arabian terrorism list, is the brother of a suicide bomber killed in a bid last year to assassinate Saudi counter-terrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

That attack, as well as another attempt on a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, involved the use of pentaerythritol trinitrate (PETN) — a highly potent explosive that appears to be the weapon of choice of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

At least one of the two U.S.-bound devices sent from Yemen addressed to synagogues in Chicago employed PETN, the U.S. official said.

“The individual who has been making these bombs … is a very dangerous individual, clearly somebody who has a fair amount of training and experience. And we need to find him. We need to bring him to justice as soon as we can,” White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan told ABC News.

“I think the indications are right now based on the forensics analysis that it’s an individual who has been responsible for putting these devices together, the same.”

“ACHILLES’ HEEL”

U.S. drone aircraft are widely believed to be behind strikes against al Qaeda targets in Yemen, much as they are in Pakistan, although Washington does not acknowledge them. Yemeni officials worry an overt U.S. military presence could attract a backlash.

Governments around the world are now scrambling to reassess security and close any loopholes that allowed the bombs through.

British Home Secretary Theresa May said security around all international air cargo arriving in Britain was being reviewed.

“We are looking at the screening of freight. We will be looking at the processes we use. We’ll be talking with the (aviation) industry about these issues,” she told the BBC.

“I think crucially … we did yesterday act, we did direct the industry that they should not be accepting freight originating from the Yemen, bringing it into the UK, or, crucially, transiting through the UK.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday the bomb found at East Midlands Airport was designed to blow an aircraft out of the sky — possibly over Britain.

The British pilots’ union BALPA said the focus on passenger security had left the “door open” for attacks on cargo flights. It said pilots had warned of the vulnerability for years. Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, told Reuters that cargo security was the “Achilles’ heel” of air transport.

But private airport operator BAA, which runs the country’s biggest airport Heathrow amongst others, said it was awaiting formal instructions from the Department for Transport.

“Any increase in security (cargo and passenger) would come from the government, but to date there have been no changes made to our requirements,” a spokeswoman said.

The British International Freight Association (BIFA), which represents cargo interests, warned against a knee-jerk reaction.

Speaking to the BBC, the director general of BIFA, Peter Quantrill said “it would be wrong to suggest that air freight security is not treated in the same way as passengers when it comes to security.”

Both Germany and France have now stopped all air freight from Yemen following the discovery of the plot.

Germany’s federal crime office (BKA) said it had tipped off British authorities about the parcel bomb intercepted in Britain after it had trans-shipped through Cologne-Bonn airport.

By the time German authorities had been informed about the suspect device, it was too late to intervene themselves.

“It was already on the way to Britain,” a BKA spokeswoman said. “We managed to inform our partners in London so that they were able to look specifically for the package and find it.”

Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the issue at the British prime minister’s country residence.

“There was agreement that the UK and German authorities would maintain their close and effective counter-terrorism co-operation,” Cameron’s spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam and Khaled Abdullah in Sanaa, Stefano Ambrogi in London, Raissa Kasolowsky in Dubai, and Dave Graham in Berlin; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alison Williams)

Yemen students protest as security reviewed after plot