French Official: One of Two Yemen Bombs from Last Week Was 17 Minutes from Detonating

One of two mail bombs sent from Yemen last week was disarmed just 17 minutes before it was set to go off, according to a statement today by the French interior minister.

Security forces in the Dubai region claim that the description of the bomb that Fortefeux is describing do not match information known about the bomb that was detained in Dubai.

The packages were addressed to two Chicago-area synagogues, but the addresses were outdated and the names on the packages included references to the Crusades — the 200-year wars involving predominantly Christians vs. Muslims.

The French Interior Ministry, British authorities and U.S. authorities would not elaborate on Hortefeux’s comment.

When investigators pulled the Chicago-bound packages off cargo planes in England and the United Arab Emirates Friday, they found the bombs wired to cell phones and hidden in the toner cartridges of laser printers.

The cellphone communication cards had been removed, so the phones could not connect to a wireless tower or receive calls. Hence, the focus on the alarm or timer functions to detonate the bombs.

The bomb found at East Midlands airport in central England went unnoticed for several hours, because of an intricate design in the toner.

Intelligence officials in the U.S. said Wednesday 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.

PETN and a syringe were used in the failed bombing last Christmas 2009 of a Detroit-bound airliner. Investigators are scrutinizing the Yemeni al-Qaida faction’s top bomb maker, who had previously designed the bomb that failed detonate properly on a crowded U.S.-bound passenger jetliner last Christmas.

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.

The underwear bomb 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 discovered., The cartridge flew on a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 jet to Doha and then on an unnamed flight from Doha to Dubai. The number of passengers on the two flights were unknown, but the first flight had a 144-seat capacity and the second would have been transported a variety of planes with seating capacities ranging from 144 to 335.

France has been on heightened alert since mid-September and last month Hortefeux said that Saudi intelligence had advised of a heightened threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based al-Qaida affiliate, which was “doubtless active or envisioned being active” on the “European continent, notably France.”

Brice Hortefeux (born 11 May 1958) is a French politician and Minister of the Interior, Overseas Territories and Territorial collectivities. He was previously Minister for Labour, Labour Relations, the Family, Solidarity and Urban Affairs and Minister-Delegate for Local Government at the Ministry of the Interior and was a Member of the European Parliament.