WASHINGTON, (AFP) — Bomb experts swept cargo planes in the United States for suspicious items on Friday after reports of a suspected bomb on a plane in Britain set off a security scare about packages from Yemen.
Aviation officials said planes at Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty Airport were towed away to be checked after police found a suspicious package on a US cargo plane at a regional British airport.
“The TSA is aware of and monitoring reports of potentially suspicious items onboard cargo flights that landed safely at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International airports,” the Transportation Security Administration said.
“Out of an abundance of caution the planes were moved to a remote location where they are being met by law enforcement officials and swept,” the statement added.
Authorities in Britain confirmed that a suspicious package had been found early Friday in a freight distribution center at East Midlands Airport in central England.
Earlier, CNN cited a law enforcement official as saying a suspected bomb disguised as a toner cartridge was found on a US cargo plane in London during a stopover on a flight from Yemen to Chicago.
It later cited a second law enforcement source as saying suspicions were raised because the toner cartridge had been manipulated but a test for explosives proved negative.
US media reports suggested that at least one of the cargo planes being swept in the United States had also passed through East Midlands Airport.
Fran Townsend, who was homeland security advisor to president George W. Bush, told CNN the security scare followed growing intelligence concerns about a possible attack by Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate.
“There had been a rising concern about packages and cargo being used to launch an attack,” she said.
“The US intelligence community has been focused on that. You add to that in the last 24 hours a tip from a very credible US ally who provided some, I’m told, very specific information about packages coming out of Yemen.”
Townsend said a plane had been grounded in Dubai in addition to the one in Britain and that the concern was over cargo planes containing packages from Yemen.
“They’ll look at every single carrier who potentially either took packages out of Yemen or picked them up en route in a second country on their way here from Yemen.”
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, faces a growing threat from the local branch of his global jihadist network.
Over the past decade, it has become a haven for violent extremists, becoming the headquarters of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the hiding place for US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was linked to high-profile terror plots in the United States.