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Bombs found in packages were wired to explode, U.S. officials say

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The two makeshift bombs in U.S.-bound packages found on cargo planes Friday in England and Dubai were wired to explode, at least one via a cellphone detonator, U.S. officials said Saturday.

In Yemen, where the packages originated, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a short news conference late Saturday that authorities had identified a woman who was suspected of involvement in mailing the packages. The Associated Press reported that the woman had been arrested.

Saleh said Yemeni forces acted on a tip from U.S. officials, who had passed on a telephone trace.

Investigators so far have determined that two packages from Yemen, both addressed to Jewish organizations in Chicago, contained explosives, though they are checking others. U.S. officials are still trying to piece together the intent of the plot, which they suspect was carried out by Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.

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One bomb was found when an aircraft landed in Britain, and British Home Secretary Theresa May said in London Saturday that “I can confirm the device was viable and could have exploded. The target may have been an aircraft, and had it detonated the aircraft could have been brought down.”

She added, “We do not believe that the perpetrators of the attack would have known the location of the device when it was planned to explode.”

U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.), after being briefed by Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, told the Tribune Washington Bureau that the bombs were fashioned out of the chemical explosive PETN. One of the bombs was wired for remote detonation via cellphone, she said, while another was linked to a timer but lacked a triggering device.

The remote detonation set up “leads me to speculate that … people had [detonators] on the ground somewhere in Chicago,” Harman said.

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Congressman Mike McCaul (R- Texas), who got the same briefings, said, “The bombs were made to look like ink cartridges -- like for a big Xerox machine.”

McCaul said both bombs were wired to SIM cards, a portable memory chip typically used in mobile phones.


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