Sent from Yemen to Chicago synagogues

Officials were searching for suspicious packages in the United States and other countries after two shipments containing explosives, sent from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were intercepted in Britain and Dubai.

The discovery on Thursday night of PETN packed in toner cartridges for computer printers, based on a tip from Saudi intelligence officials, set off a broad terrorism scare that included the scrambling of fighter jets to accompany a passenger flight as it landed safely in New York.

Cargo planes were moved to secure areas of airports in Philadelphia and Newark for searches, and a United Parcel Service truck in New York was stopped and inspected.

The packages seized contained PETN, or pentaerythritol trinitrate, the same chemical explosive contained in the bomb sewn into the underwear of a Nigerian who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on December 25, 2009. That plot, too, was hatched in Yemen.

Both packages contained computer printer cartridges filled with the explosive; one used a cell phone as a detonator and the other had a timer.

One of the packages was found aboard a United Parcel Service cargo plane at East Midlands Airport near Nottingham, England. A second package was removed from a FedEx flight in Dubai.

Neither company has flights into or out of Yemen, but they offer shipping from Yemen and contract with other companies to move freight from there to hubs in Europe and elsewhere.

In a brief statement to reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama, who had been briefed on developments starting at 10-35 p.m. on Thursday, said the explosives represented a “credible terrorist threat” to the U.S. “The events of the past 24 hours underscore the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism,” he said. Mr. Obama praised the work of intelligence and counterterrorism officials in foiling the plot. The plot unfolded dramatically on TV, with scenes of security teams surrounding cargo planes in several countries, military fighters accompanying a passenger plane into New York and a grim-faced U.S. President and his aides, many of whom had spent a sleepless night. — New York Times News Service

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