Bombs in flight -- Friday's false alarm not false

Published 1 November 2010

Friday’s emergency activity concerned with finding explosive devices initially reported as a false alarm — early reports indicated no explosives were found; this proved to be wrong in subsequent reports, live devices containing PETN were found in the U.K. and Dubai; in the instance of the Dubai device, the bomb package had been flown on two passenger flights; U.S. intelligence analysis identify bombmaker; Yemeni authorities arrest and later release female student on suspicion of complicity

Suspicious package contained "maipulated" cartridge // Source:

Much has been learned in the 72 hours since initial reports of bombs on United Parcel Service cargo planes. We now know that there were two devices containing the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) found aboard UPS flights at the U.K.’s East Midlands airport and in Dubai. The U.K. plane had been searched by authorities, and cleared when officials in Dubai contacted them and gave them information on how the bombs were concealed. The explosives were packed into toner cartridges of the type used in printers and copy machines, and were rigged with timing devices to control detonation.

Both bombs originated in Yemen. One was flown to Germany, then on to the U.K. The second traveled to Doha, Qatar aboard a passenger flight, then was transferred to another passenger aircraft for the trip to Dubai, where it was discovered.

Yemen had arrested a female student, but released her after concluding her identity was stolen, and she was not the person who signed the shipping manifest.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence analysts had concluded that the bombmaker was a 28-year-old Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, whose brother was killed in last year’s attack on the Saudi Arabian counterterrorism chief.

Many questions surrounding these events have been answered, with many more still to be resolved. But one of the most vexing is the length of time and the extent that incorrect information was circulated.

Late Friday afternoon, news media channels and outlets began filling with news of explosive devices being placed on United Parcel Service cargo aircraft. Reports were broadcast of UPS planes being moved to isolated sections of airports for the search of cargo.

New York’s JFK, along with Philadelphia, Newark Liberty and the Portland, Maine, International airports saw UPS cargo planes searched and ultimately cleared. This news was transmitted, along with apparently contradictory reports of devices found that did not contain explosives.

As HSNW reported in a Friday afternoon bulletin, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, along with most network broadcast media were informing readers and listeners that there were “dummy” devices found, but they did not contain any explosive materials. The discussion turned to the construction and configuration of the devices, photographs of the devices were published, and speculation grew as to why terrorists would bother with such a stunt.

This became the message, until 4:15 PM Eastern, when President Obama held a press conference to discuss the day’s events. It was during that press conference that the first confirmation that the