Yemeni forces arrested a woman on Saturday believed to be involved in sending packages filled with explosives bound for Jewish synagogues in the United States, Yemeni security officials said.
The arrest was the first made in the case, in which two air freight packages containing bombs - both sent from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago - were intercepted in Britain and Dubai over the weekend.
Jewish community leaders in Chicago had been warned to be on alert for suspicious packages addressed to synagogues in the city, even before the explosives were found. The executive vice president of the Chicago Jewish Federation, Michael Kotzin, said the community had been told to maintain high security alert around synagogues and pay particular attention to the handling of mail.
Yemeni officials said the woman arrested had been traced through a telephone number she had left with a cargo company. They told Reuters she was a medical student at San'a University and believed to be in her 20s. She was arrested in a poor neighborhood in the Yemeni capital of San'a.
The woman's lawyer said her mother had also been detained, but was not a prime suspect.
British officials said the explosives device found on a cargo plane at its East Midlands Airport was big enough to down an aircraft.
Dubai also announced on Friday that it had found a viable bomb. Dubai officials say the bombs bear the hallmarks of Al-Qaida's Yemeni branch, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP ). At least one bomb included PETN, the explosive used in a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day last year, a plot claimed by AQAP.
The White House said Saudi Arabia had helped to identify the threat, and President Barack Obama thanked Saudi King Abdullah for the "critical role" his country played.
Heavy police presence in San'a
There was a heavy police presence on the streets of San'a on Saturday night, with checkpoints throughout the city and on the road to the airport, as police hunted accomplices. An official in Washington called Saturday's arrest "a demonstration that Yemen is taking this seriously and cooperation is strong and ongoing".
The White House said Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, had told Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that Washington "stands ready" to aid his government. Saleh said his country was "determined to continue fighting terrorism and Al-Qaida in cooperation with its partners," but warned Washington against taking matters into its own hands.
"We do not want anyone to interfere in Yemeni affairs by hunting down Al-Qaida," he said in a brief appearance before journalists. Saleh also said Yemen would like better intelligence cooperation with the U.S., British and Saudi governments.
In Washington, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said authorities were checking whether other packages had been sent before the two that were intercepted.
One package was found on a United Parcel Service cargo plane at East Midlands Airport, north of London. The other bomb was discovered hidden in a computer printer cartridge in a parcel at a FedEx Corp facility in Dubai. That package was brought in on a Qatar Airways plane that stopped over in the Qatari capital Doha, the airline confirmed.
Chicago Jewish community on high alert
Authorities in the United States refused to provide additional details yesterday regarding the precise addresses that appeared on the packages containing the explosives, despite President Obama's announcement that they were addressed to synagogues in Chicago. This resulted in all kinds of speculation over the particular targets of the foiled attacks, as well as stepped-up security at synagogues in the city.
A source close to the investigation told the Chicago Tribune that the packages were addressed to synagogues in the East Rogers Park and Lake View neighborhoods, but other reports said one of the targets was the Or Chadash congregation, which relocated seven years ago from Lake View to the Edgewater neighborhood, to a facility it shares with the Emanuel congregation.
The head of Emanuel, Rabbi Michael Zedek, said he received information from a reliable and well-placed Jewish community source that it appeared Or Chadash was one of the bomb plot targets. Zedek termed it a wake-up call for the Jewish community, saying it must recognize this new reality and plan accordingly.
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