France: AQ bomb just minutes away from exploding when found

posted at 9:30 am on November 4, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

New information from France and Britain make clear that the al-Qaeda mail-bomb plot intended to attack jets in mid-air and not necessarily the locations to which the packages were addressed.  France’s interior minister told the media that the bomb discovered in the jet in East Midlands, England would have detonated in 17 minutes, a finding confirmed by CBS through its British sources:

France’s interior minister says that one of two mail bombs sent from Yemen last week was defused just 17 minutes before it was set to explode.

Brice Hortefeux provided no other details in an interview Thursday on France’s state-run France-2 television, nor did he say where he got the information about the timing.

When investigators pulled the Chicago-bound packages off cargo planes in England and the United Arab Emirates Friday, they found the bombs wired to cell phones. The communication cards had been removed and the phones could not receive calls, officials said, making it likely the terrorists intended the alarm or timer functions to detonate the bombs, U.S. officials have said.

A British counterterrorism source tells CBS News it was the bomb found on a plane at East Midlands airport, in England, that was defused just minutes before it was set to explode.

ABC reports that although the bombs were wired to cellphones, the detonation would not have been remotely controlled by AQ.  The terrorists used the alarm clock functions instead as a timer:

The plotters behind last week’s unsuccessful mail bombings could not have known exactly where their Chicago-bound packages were when they were set to explode, even after a suspected test run, U.S. officials say.

The communication cards had been removed from the cell phones attached to the bombs, meaning the phones could not receive calls, officials said, making it likely the terrorists intended the alarm or timer functions to detonate the bombs.

“The cell phone probably would have been triggered by the alarm functions and it would have exploded midair,” said a U.S. official briefed on the investigation of the bombs taken off cargo planes Friday in England and the United Arab Emirates. This person, like other officials in this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

This became more clear over the weekend.  Although at least two of the packages were addressed to synagogues, the existence of timing mechanisms strongly indicated that the addresses were secondary, and perhaps just used to send a message after the actual attacks had occurred.  There are easier ways to send actual letter bombs, which activate not on timers but mechanical detonation from opening the letter or package.

If the attack targeted the planes themselves, then cell phones wouldn’t work reliably, either, not unless the jet was low enough to pick up cell tower coverage.  Using them as timers makes more sense; the clocks are reliable and AQ already has plenty of experience in using cell phones in IEDs.  While the terrorists would have no way of knowing precisely when the packages would be airborne, a shotgun approach to the plot would almost ensure that at least a few would detonate mid-air.

The Obama administration wants to start changing rules on cargo handling in response to the plot:

The Obama administration, which has been monitoring intelligence on possible mail plots since at least early September, was preparing new security rules for international cargo in response to the attempted attack.

Security officials are considering requiring that companies provide information about incoming cargo before planes take off, one U.S. official said. Currently, the U.S. doesn’t get that information until four hours before a plane lands.

A second official said the U.S. will also expand its definition of high-risk cargo, meaning more cargo will be screened from countries known as hotbeds of terrorism.

While these will add delays and costs to shipping — which had to have been one of the goals of the AQ plotters — they seem to be both sensible and necessary.  In retrospect, one might wonder why these controls weren’t adjusted years ago, but until now AQ has always attacked passenger systems.  Their shift in targets indicate that we have succeeded in making those attacks more difficult and forced them to find easier targets.  Thankfully we had the chance to react and adapt before people died.


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Betty McCollum unavailable for comment.

Red Cloud on November 4, 2010 at 9:32 AM

They don’t care when or where they go off, as long as they go off.

Vashta.Nerada on November 4, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Security officials are considering requiring that companies provide information about incoming cargo before planes take off

That’s a relief, I halfway expected this administration to outlaw alarms on cell phones.

Kafir on November 4, 2010 at 9:37 AM

In retrospect, one might wonder why these controls weren’t adjusted years ago,

were any of these recommendations noted in the 9/11 commission report? just curious…

cmsinaz on November 4, 2010 at 9:38 AM

A British counterterrorism source tells CBS News it was the bomb found on a plane … was defused just minutes before it was set to explode.

In the movie version, there will be 1 second left on the clock.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:40 AM

They only have to get lucky once, we have to do it every time. You have to give this government credit though, they did ask the Brits to re-check one plane that had already been cleared. If they had not stuck to their guns and believed in their own intelligence, people would be dead right now. The only question is how many.

Mord on November 4, 2010 at 9:41 AM

The Greeks just shut down their mail service. How can a modern civilized nation maintain commerce under these conditions? We need to stop doing business with regimes that cannot restrain their own populations, or at least charge them for the cost of extra security.

paul1149 on November 4, 2010 at 9:43 AM


If the attack targeted the planes themselves, then cell phones wouldn’t work reliably, either, not unless the jet was low enough to pick up cell tower coverage.

That would be 10,000 feet or below.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Don’t worry, though, the system works!{/napolitano}

fusionaddict on November 4, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Now that she has been re-elected thanks to the morons on her district who didn’t know any better, is Betty McCollum still convinced that AQ is no longer a viable threat?

pilamaye on November 4, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Countries known as hotbeds of terrorism? Don’t they mean man-made disasters? And isn’t that profiling?

petunia on November 4, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Why are terror exporting countries not punished more?

Give them an incentive to capture and kill these people.

Nothing should go in or out of Yemen by plane, for a month because of this.

Let them fester in their own crap hole country.

Next time, make it six months. Double it everytime after that.

This should have been done to Pakistan a long time before this.

The world economy will not suffer if these crap hole Middle Eastern nations, get air embargoed. Let their citizens enjoy being exclusively around other like-minded, miserable Muslims.

NoDonkey on November 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM

They only have to get lucky once, we have to do it every time.
Mord on November 4, 2010 at 9:41 AM

this

cmsinaz on November 4, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:40 AM

What do you think this does to the mind set of the pilots and employees that work with these flights? I bet I would be doubling down on my life insurance. I would be a wreck.

Cindy Munford on November 4, 2010 at 9:47 AM

The movement to cargo planes is one step away from where they will find most success: ship board cargo containers. This allows for larger payload bombs. All you need is one paid off and/or loyal Muslim worker at the port of departure, then simply sail into NY/Boston/LA harbor, and detonate from shore via radio/cellphone. I’ve been dreading this for the past nine years, especially since this is the ideal delivery system for a small nuke.

Hucklebuck on November 4, 2010 at 9:47 AM

Did anyone see on Fox yesterday that they said the return addresses of these packages were the names of people who had fought Muslims in past centuries?

Cindy Munford on November 4, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Obviously, rather than going to India, Dear Liar needs to go to Pakistan & Saudi Arabia for more bowing.

rbj on November 4, 2010 at 9:50 AM

There are two stories right now that just have been in the shadows of the election and really should be getting more attention.
This is one. The other is the Fed yesterday.
AlQ or whatever Islamic terrorists are ready next are still singularly focussed on blowing sh** up. Not only the bombs there were box cutters found on a plane, in the cabin, that landed in Portland on Tuesday. How did box cutters get in the cabin when ten year old can’t bring snow globes home from Disney World?
The Dem talking points are wrong, we are as much of a target as ever, we are just lucky. And our security holes are still there, no matter how many naked bodies TSA looks at.

ORconservative on November 4, 2010 at 9:50 AM

What do you think this does to the mind set of the pilots and employees that work with these flights? I bet I would be doubling down on my life insurance. I would be a wreck.

Cindy Munford on November 4, 2010 at 9:47 AM

I can tell my dad is nervous. He usually does NYC/London legs from NYC and (after returning from a 8 year absence at American) on his first flight in September, he had FOUR air marshals both there and back, plus an intelligence brief that that leg has been targeted over and over by UK jihadis. The stress is there and clear, unfortunately.

I really don’t worry about people storming his cockpit. We’ve always discussed the cargo issue since 2001.

blatantblue on November 4, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Video comment

Shy Guy on November 4, 2010 at 9:51 AM

What do you think this does to the mind set of the pilots and employees that work with these flights? – Cindy

They probably get a little nervous when they make/hear that 10,000 foot announcement during the decent. Relief at the 10,000 foot announcement on the ascent.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:52 AM

Wasn’t there a “false alarm” a couple of months ago when they found cell phones taped to a bottle in the luggage? Is there any connection? Was it not a false alarm but a test? My memory is failing me on the details.

sammypants on November 4, 2010 at 9:53 AM

blatantblue on November 4, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Hope your dad continues to be well. Flying is still safe travel but the must get some scary updates.

Cindy Munford on November 4, 2010 at 9:55 AM

I really don’t worry about people storming his cockpit. – Blue

Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen anymore. That’s why they’re trying something else, cargo bombs.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:55 AM

Not Muslims……they’re youths.

BobMbx on November 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM

“We can absorb things like this…” – President Barack Obama (D) (paraphrase)

“Al Qaeda is no longer a national security threat…” – Betty McCollum (D)

catmman on November 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM

There are so many ways of striking soft targets on the ground without the reliance on high tech instruments. I think they are trying to see how far we will go to interupt our lives and how much freedom we will give up in order to pretend we are safe. Short of turning cargo holds into flying faraday cages or using frequency generators to fry the guts out of electronic devices we just end up with more pat downs, x-rays and strip searches of granny.

fourdeucer on November 4, 2010 at 9:57 AM

I think that’s what they call “the nick of time.”

CurtZHP on November 4, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen anymore. That’s why they’re trying something else, cargo bombs.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:55 AM

He’d grab that emergency axe and go right to work. No pilot will put up that fake hijacking bullsh!t ever again.

blatantblue on November 4, 2010 at 9:57 AM

They should have let it tick down til there was 1 second left like in the movies.

jeffn21 on November 4, 2010 at 9:59 AM

Not Muslims……they’re disenfranchised asian youths.

BobMbx on November 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM

That’s the term the French like to use….

jbh45 on November 4, 2010 at 10:03 AM

catmman on November 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM

The liberal stooges say this so they have some sort’ve escape hatch to crawl out when the sh*t goes down. As for the MN congresswoman, she’s just an idiot.

jbh45 on November 4, 2010 at 10:06 AM

OT – Mv God, we need a thread to discuss the Presidents trip to India

http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/34-warships-sent-from-us-for-obama-visit-64459

jazzmo on November 4, 2010 at 10:10 AM

The problem is that even after we put a finger in this hole in the dyke, they have an infinite amount of delivery methods. The “religion of pieces” goal is to hamstring us with our own security methods.

Alden Pyle on November 4, 2010 at 10:10 AM

Napolitano has responded by telling all TSA employees to vigorously interrogate all senior citizens and children under the age of 4 trying to board an aircraft.

Bishop on November 4, 2010 at 10:15 AM

The Obama administration wants to start changing rules on cargo handling

Weren’t the Democrats making a big deal out of cargo handling rules back in 2006. Now 4 years later, they have decided to heed their own advise.

J_Crater on November 4, 2010 at 10:28 AM

jbh45 on November 4, 2010 at 10:03 AM

The French media perhaps.

French lawmakers banned the burqa.

Europe is starting to wake up to the Muslim problem. Things are changing. Finally.

NoDonkey on November 4, 2010 at 10:32 AM

using frequency generators to fry the guts out of electronic devices we just end up with more pat downs, x-rays and strip searches of granny.

fourdeucer on November 4, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Then they’d just switch to a sort of electronic dead-man’s switch, some kind of transformer or capacitor–kill the power and the bomb goes off.

smellthecoffee on November 4, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Europe is starting to wake up to the Muslim problem. Things are changing. Finally.

NoDonkey on November 4, 2010 at 10:32 AM

We will know they are serious when they start banning Happy Meals.

Baxter Greene on November 4, 2010 at 10:46 AM

jazzmo on November 4, 2010 at 10:10 AM

Yep. The stink in Washington is moving to India for 3 days. WHY is this trip necessary?

ORconservative on November 4, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Speaking of AQ, Chimpy Bush says “Damn right” he ordered KSM to be waterboarded…

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/04/politics/washingtonpost/main7021644.shtml

Del Dolemonte on November 4, 2010 at 11:00 AM

but until now AQ has always attacked passenger systems

Except cargo is also carried on passenger planes.

Surely that was still the intended target.

In a rational world, our response would be calibrated to the intended effect.

TexasDan on November 4, 2010 at 11:00 AM

The movement to cargo planes is one step away from where they will find most success: ship board cargo containers. This allows for larger payload bombs. All you need is one paid off and/or loyal Muslim worker at the port of departure, then simply sail into NY/Boston/LA harbor, and detonate from shore via radio/cellphone. I’ve been dreading this for the past nine years, especially since this is the ideal delivery system for a small nuke.

Hucklebuck on November 4, 2010 at 9:47 AM

Imagine this scenario in the Port of Houston. Refineries and storage tanks are EVERYWHERE. This is what I’ve been dreading for the past nine years.

Dominion on November 4, 2010 at 11:20 AM

A British counterterrorism source tells CBS News it was the bomb found on a plane … was defused just minutes before it was set to explode.

In the movie version, there will be 1 second left on the clock.

Tony737 on November 4, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Of course in the movie version you need a 3″ high red LED countdown, even though it’s not required for the thing to work.

slickwillie2001 on November 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM

ORconservative on November 4, 2010 at 10:47 AM

What is this trip for. I mean there is no benefit to the taxpayer at all for this trip. 2 billion dollars wasted. He thinks he’s king of America.

jazzmo on November 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM

We are in a world of hurt if these bombers ever get competent and fully cellularized.

slickwillie2001 on November 4, 2010 at 11:23 AM

Ed:

Not to be a nagging, nabob of negativity, but your headlines blurb “ABC: Yemeni bomb plotters didn’t know when bombs would explode” is wrong. The bomb plotters knew when the bombs would explode (they had timers), they didn’t know for sure where the bombs would be when they exploded, e.g. in the air in a plane, on the ground, etc.

Otherwise, thanks for the great job these past two years. HA is the only reason that I have maintained what sanity I retained after Nov 2008.

parke on November 4, 2010 at 11:29 AM

Napolitano has responded by telling all TSA employees to vigorously interrogate all senior citizens and children under the age of 4 trying to board an aircraft.

Bishop on November 4, 2010 at 10:15 AM

You think you’re joking. The DHS already has the TSA goons blasting us with radiation, stripping us naked and/or molesting us, and the sheep go, “Baaaaa.” They can and will obviously do whatever they want in the name of security theater.

I wonder when the DHS will mandate the TSA have doctors on staff to give us all pap smears and/or rectal exams before we are allowed to board a GD plane.

We are all terrorists now.

Rae on November 4, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Speaking of AQ, Chimpy Bush says “Damn right” he ordered KSM to be waterboarded…

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/04/politics/washingtonpost/main7021644.shtml

Del Dolemonte on November 4, 2010 at 11:00 AM

This is because Bush understood that the real enemy to America was the jihadist,unlike democrats who think the enemy is people who disagree with Obama.

Baxter Greene on November 4, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Thankfully we had the chance to react and adapt before people died.

I think two crew have already died. There was a cargo plane brought down by an on board fire not too long ago. My biggest concern is that these devices are extremely difficult to detect even when dedicated professionals are targeting just one plane to search. AQ want to inflict economic damage. Think of these sophisticated devices on ships on planes and you have a nightmare.

We found out about this plot because one of their guys turned. We need to come up with way to detect these devices without being told they are there.

lexhamfox on November 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM

lexhamfox on November 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Iknow! Have everyone remove their shoes.

ORconservative on November 4, 2010 at 11:36 AM

We are in a world of hurt if these bombers ever get competent and fully cellularized.

slickwillie2001 on November 4, 2010 at 11:23 AM

Just competant would be bad enough. Cells are 10,000% overkill for this type of attack. $5 worth of electronics, or $0.50 worth of household ‘stuff’(untracable) would have been better utilized. The ‘muslims’ really are the stupid type.

oh yeah, FUBO.

orbitalair on November 4, 2010 at 11:38 AM

The Greeks just shut down their mail service. How can a modern civilized nation maintain commerce under these conditions? We need to stop doing business with regimes that cannot restrain their own populations, or at least charge them for the cost of extra security.

paul1149 on November 4, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Um, in Greece, it is the leftists sending the bombs.

Think about that for a moment….

percysunshine on November 4, 2010 at 11:42 AM

I hate to upset everybody’s comfort level (that the bombs were only on freight flights), but you should be aware (and I have first-hand knowledge of this fact) that a significant amount of freight is transported via commercial carriers. From 1998 until 2003, I flew over 100,000 miles per year. I took a paycut to get out of that job, and I only fly now if it is an absolute necessity.

God, how I hate terrorists.

lionheart on November 4, 2010 at 1:02 PM

I would think that the cargo companies themselves would insist on stepping up package security. They wouldn’t want their name associated forever with a plane that was blown up.

Aren’t pilots ultimately responsible for the safety of the plane? I would think they would also insist on the additional security.

Common Sense on November 4, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Islam- it’s da bomb!

profitsbeard on November 4, 2010 at 7:29 PM