Investigations continue into East Midlands Airport terror plot
Investigations into a terror plot involving an explosive device at East Midlands Airport have been taking place over the weekend. Marcus Boocock reports...
THE EYES of the world – including US President Barack Obama's – were on East Midlands Airport this weekend after a suspicious package sparked a terror alert on both sides of the Atlantic.
And today, questions are still being asked about how the device – now found to have been capable of causing an explosion – ended up on a freight plane in the heart of the UK's Midlands.
The drama began to unfold at lunchtime on Friday, when news came that a package had been found on a cargo plane at East Midlands Airport.
As is common in such instances, a cordon was put up and tests were done on the item.
There had been a tip-off from Saudi intelligence but after a six-hour sweep, Leicestershire Police had found nothing and removed a security perimeter.
But when officials in Dubai said they had discovered a bomb disguised as a computer printer cartridge, authorities urged the British to look again, a US official said.
"As a direct consequence, they put the cordon back up again and looked again and found the explosives," said British aviation safety consultant Chris Yates.
Like the package found in Dubai, the East Midlands device was hidden in a printer cartridge and was packed with explosive material Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), which is a plastic explosive favoured by al-Qaida because it is colourless, odourless and cannot be easily detected.
Newark MP Patrick Mercer, formally the head of the counter-terrorism sub committee, has criticised Leicestershire Police's handling of the situation.
He said: "It should have immediately been passed on to counter terrorism. We should be beyond mistakes like this.
"I was very surprised that the security cordon was lifted when it was."
No one from Leicestershire Police was available for comment last night.
But a spokesman from the Metropolitan Police said: "Following initial examination explosives officers were satisfied that the package presented no immediate danger.
"It was secured for further examination and cordons were removed.
"Further examination of the package by explosives officers identified items of concern.
"Cordons were put back in place as a precaution prior to items being removed for further scientific analysis."
Following the discovery of the plot, the Government's emergency planning committee Cobra met to discuss the issue on Friday and Saturday.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he believed the device found at East Midlands may have been designed to blow the plane out of the sky, though it was not known where this was meant to take place.
But Mr Mercer said he didn't believe the UK was a target.
He added: "It was not well executed, but I still think we should be wary. We would be foolish not to be.
"If it had gone off it would have killed a few, which is obviously too many, but I don't believe it would have been large scale. But the fact everyone is talking about it and the furore it has caused means the plot has been a success in some degree for the terrorists."
Mr Mercer also hit out at recent suggestions by British Airways chairman Martin Broughton that security at airports should be loosened, calling the idea "complacent".
The delay in finding the device at East Midlands may have been down to difficulties in detecting them, according to Lord Carlile, who reviews the Government's anti-terrorism legislation.
He told a TV programme: "The one weakness I would identify from what we must regard as a success in recent days is that the technical equipment used at East Midlands Airport apparently did not detect the explosives at the first attempt.
"So we must have a look at the technology to ensure that it's absolutely up to date. This is all about trying to keep one step ahead of terrorists."
It was business as usual today at East Midlands, as passenger and freight flights were expected to be taking off and landing as normal.
An airport spokesman said security would be no higher than normal as the Home Office had not advised them differently.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May has vowed to review security on freight flights.
She said the Government had already acted to ban all unaccompanied freight from Yemen coming to Britain, and was in talks with the industry about further restrictions.
It is believed the bombs were made by the same person who created a device in an attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit last Christmas Day.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the US and United Arab Emirates had provided intelligence that helped identify a woman, who is suspected of mailing the packages.
Yemeni rights activist Abdel-Rahman Barman said Hanan al-Samawi was a 22-year-old student at the University of Sana'a who was not known to be involved in any political activity or to have ties to any Islamic groups.
She was released from custody last night but a Yemeni official said five more people had now been arrested.