Worldwide scare: Explosives meant for Chicago synagogues

A United Arab Emirates passenger plane was escorted by fighter jets and forced to land at JFK Airport Friday. Photo Source: CNN
A United Arab Emirates passenger plane was escorted by fighter jets and forced to land at JFK Airport Friday. Photo Source: CNN

(RNN) – President Obama confirmed Friday that explosives were found in packages bound for two Chicago, IL synagogues in a "credible terror threat" that set off a worldwide security scare across three continents.

"The U.S. is taking these threats very seriously," Obama said.

Authorities discovered explosives onboard a cargo plane at East Midlands Airport in the United Kingdom and in a FedEx package in Dubai. Both packages originated in Yemen.

Those devices inspired Friday's grounding of three aircraft within the U.S., one at Newark Liberty International Airport and two at Philadelphia International Airport.

Although he did not point the finger directly at the agency, Obama mentioned an Al-Qaeda operation in Yemen in his speech and said it should be destroyed.

"Going forward, we will continue our cooperation with the Yemeni government to disrupt plotting by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and to destroy this Al-Qaeda affiliate," he said.

Just before Obama's speech, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) scrambled fighter jets to escort a United Arab Emirates passenger plane as it landed at JFK International Airport near Manhattan, NY.

The plane landed without incident. An FBI agent, who did not want to be identified due to the ongoing investigation, suggested the plane may have been carrying cargo originating in Yemen.

Jackie Blair, a spokeswoman with UPS, said the cargo planes in Newark and Philadelphia were searched "in an abundance of caution."

TSA Spokesperson Sterling Payne said the planes were moved to remote locations and scoured by law enforcement officials in both cities.

"After security sweeps, the planes and their cargo have been cleared," he said Friday afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama was first notified of a potential threat at 10:35 p.m. Thursday by the Department of Homeland Security.

"The President directed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the American people and to determine whether these threats are a part of any additional terrorist plotting," Gibbs said. "The President has received regular updates from his national security team since he was alerted to the threat."

The device found in the UK package was a "manipulated" toner cartridge, with wires a computer card and white powder coming out.

Both UPS and FedEx announced in statements that all shipments originating in Yemen were suspended, citing safety and security.

"As an additional safety measure, FedEx has embargoed all shipments originating from Yemen," said FedEx Corporate Communications Director Maury. S Lane in an email. "The company is cooperating fully with the authorities on this matter."

Following the threats, the Department of Homeland Security announced "enhanced" security steps for passengers traveling by air, including heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports.

Those measures could include pat-downs, explosive detection devices, advanced imaging technology, and canine teams.

"Some of these security measures will be visible while others will not," the news release said.

Suspicious activity in Brooklyn, NY and Portland, ME were also investigated for possible threats. A UPS truck parked near the New York State Metro Tech Business Center in Brooklyn was searched but found to be clear of any explosives.

The Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse in Portland was searched after a suspicious package was left in bushes outside an entrance. The package later turned out to be a backpack unrelated to other events, said John Clark, chief deputy with the U.S. Marshall Service in Portland.

Obama said the American people should rest assured that extremism in all its forms would be rooted out and eliminated.

"The counter-terrorism professionals are taking this threat very seriously and are taking all necessary and prudent steps to ensure our security," he said.

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