PARIS (CBS) – One of the bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues from Yemen was defused just 17 minutes before it would have detonated, the French interior minister says.
Interior minister Brice Hortefeux said on France’s state-run France-2 television that the bomb was close to exploding. He provided no other details in the interview, nor would he say where he got the information about the timing.
When investigators pulled the Chicago-bound packages off a UPS cargo plane England and a FedEx plane in the United Arab Emirates Friday, they found the bombs wired to cell phones and hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers. 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.
They also that each bomb was attached to a syringe containing lead azide, a chemical initiator that would have detonated PETN explosives packed into each printer cartridge. Both PETN and a syringe were used in the failed bombing last Christmas of a Detroit-bound airliner.
Investigators have centered on the Yemeni al-Qaida faction’s top bomb maker, who had previously designed a bomb that failed to go off on a crowded U.S.-bound passenger jetliner last Christmas.
This time, authorities believe that master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri packed four times as much explosives into the bombs hidden last week on flights from Yemen. The two bombs contained 300 and 400 grams of the industrial explosive PETN, according to a German security official, who briefed reporters Monday in Berlin on condition of anonymity in line with department guidelines.
By comparison, the bomb stuffed into a terrorist suspect’s underwear on the Detroit-bound plane last Christmas contained about 80 grams.
One of the explosive devices found inside a shipped printer cartridge in Dubai had flown on two airlines before it was seized, first on a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 jet to Doha and then on an as-yet-undisclosed flight from Doha to Dubai. The number of passengers on the flights were unknown, but the first flight had a 144-seat capacity and the second would have moved on one of a variety of planes with seating capacities ranging from 144 to 335.
The packages were both addressed to Chicago Jewish congregations. Authorities have not specified which ones, but sources told the Chicago Tribune they were on the city’s North Side. Police made increased checks this past weekend in areas with a large number of synagogues, including the Edgewater, Rogers Park and West Rogers Park neighborhoods, the Tribune reported.
Last week, Rabbi Michael Zedek of Emmanuel Congregation said he was told by a Jewish leader in Chicago that the smaller Or Chadash congregation was one of the targets. The FBI did not confirm that, and both Zedek and Chadash Rabbi Larry Edwards said they had not spoken to law enforcement.
Or Chadash members took the news calmly, Edwards said. The synagogue, which has about 100 members, serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Jews and their families.
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