Return to Transcripts main page
CNN BREAKING NEWS
International Security Alert Issued; U.S. Authorities to Search Plane Landing at JFK Originating From Yemen
Aired October 29, 2010 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes welcoming viewers around the world as this breaking international news continues here in the NEWSROOM.
WHITFIELD: Good to see you.
HOLMES: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: And we're with you the next couple hours.
We're going to bring you up to speed right now on the international security alert involving suspicious packages on cargo planes. It started with the discovery of a suspicious package on a UPS cargo plane at the East Midlands Airport about 100 miles north of London.
The package contained a device disguised as a toner cartridge. It included wires and a circuit board and was covered with a white powder. The package was shipped from Sanaa, Yemen, and was headed to Chicago by way of Philadelphia, we understand, according to sources.
And a source tells CNN that it was destined for a Chicago synagogue in particular.
A second suspicious package from Yemen was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai. The discovery prompted increased security involving UPS cargo planes in Newark, New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia, and a UPS truck in New York.
The all-clear has been sounded in New Jersey and in New York, but two UPS planes are still being inspected in Philadelphia. No actual explosives have been found in these suspicious packages. U.S. authorities believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is behind these shipments.
One scenario, this may be part of a dry run for an operation to send explosives disguised as toner cartridges.
HOLMES: All right. Yes, we're going to bring you up to date on some other developing news that we have just got in, in the last few minutes. And -- and, first of all, that is that we are hearing that a plane that is coming from the United Arab Emirates is actually getting a military escort into John F. Kennedy Airport.
You're seeing there the White House. That's because we have also heard news about that. The U.S. president, Barack Obama, is expected to make a statement on this security alert in about 45 minutes or so from now -- no, an hour and 15 from now, 4:15 Eastern time in the United States.
So, we're going to be covering that for you, obviously bring you that live when it happens.
I want to go back now to this -- this alert about the aircraft coming in from the United Arab Emirates on its way in to JFK. It's expected to land at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S. That's in less than half-an-hour. And it's getting a military escort in.
It became -- there were suspicions about this plane, apparently, and that's why the escort is there. It became an aircraft of interest, was the comment we got. Two U.S. F-15s have picked up the escort from two Canadian CF-18s that tracked it across Canadian airspace.
The U.S. aircraft have picked it up since then. They are following it in. You have got the flight tracker there. You can see exactly where it is, heading into JFK Airport, due to arrive in less than half-an-hour. We don't know what the story is with this plane, but we are certainly keeping an eye on it. And we will tell you when we hear.
WHITFIELD: And, of course, our Chad Myers, as he often does, is tracking this airline, as well as oftentimes he's giving us an idea about the whereabouts of airlines as it pertains to security concerns just like this one.
So, Chad, what are we learning about this plane and how far away? We heard estimates that this flight into JFK in New York might be about 30 minutes away. What does that tracking tell you?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it probably -- because right now it's over Cape Cod, almost there over Chatham, and it's turning and it's coming in from the east now, coming into JFK.
So it will come across the sound and into JFK. It's the United Arab Emirates Flight 201. This is the same map that I always show you that looks like ants on candy. But if I go in and I -- I look for one plane or look for one type of plane, I can do that.
And we found UAE 201 at 34,000 feet descending just a little bit, now at 33,400 feet. So, it's coming down, doing 370 knots. It came out of Dubai and heading into JFK. It came down south. It was over Canadian airspace for quite some time, then coming down south over Maine and into the Cape Cod area.
There's the plane right there. And the -- the angle of the plane kind of begins to show the shape of it as it begins to come in now from the east, although at -- now down to 32,700 feet, the plane coming down quite quickly, compared to what I used to see -- usually see about this far away. We will see whether it gets diverted someplace else, but right now it's not being diverted. It's still going to JFK Airport right there -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Chad. We will continue to check back with you.
And, again, we are awaiting comments possibly coming from the White House, the president of the United States likely to make some comments on this somewhere within the next hour or so as well -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, we have got a live picture, too, from John F. Kennedy Airport as we await the arrival of that plane and await some more information about it as well.
There it is. There's that live picture. Now, the plane is expected in 26 minutes, 25 minutes or so, and we're following that.
Jeanne Meserve is following things for us from Washington, our homeland security correspondent.
What a day, Jeanne? What have you been -- what's the latest you have been hearing?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we have heard is that there's a lot of activity going on that is -- it falls in the category of -- of due diligence, of precautionary acts.
We know that the Department of Homeland Security is having security increased, they mentioned specifically at airports, because of the developments of today. In addition, you have seen airplanes, as Fredricka mentioned, pulled aside in Philadelphia and Newark. They have looked at some trucks in New York, all of this we're told an effort to track down some other packages that were sent out of Yemen.
As you have mentioned, there were two where they have found devices, one in the U.K., one in Dubai. We're told there were about 13 other packages also shipped out of Yemen that they want to track down. They have no specific intelligence that they pose any kind of threat. They don't even have specific intelligence that they're in the United States.
But they want to find these. They want to examine them. They want to eliminate the possibility that they do pose any sort of threat at this point in time. So, that is going on. We have been cautioned that, in the days to come, we may see some additional activity like the activity we have seen today at Newark and Philadelphia, other cargo planes being looked at.
And we're advised that this may well not be any new incident, but, rather, a continuation of the follow-up on today's events, as they try to put to -- to rest whether or not there's any additional threat to the U.S. beyond these two devices that have been found in Dubai and the U.K., which, my sources tell me, are still being checked out. They're still looking at those to determine exactly what they're dealing with here, these toner cartridges that had been manipulated, had been changed, the one in England having a computer card attached and some wires -- Michael, back to you.
HOLMES: All right, Jeanne, thanks for that -- Jeanne Meserve following things for us there in Washington.
WHITFIELD: All right, we want to find out a little bit more about what the investigation on ground here domestically might be like.
We're going to talk now to the former FBI Assistant Director Thomas Fuentes. He is with us now.
So, give us me idea, Mr. Fuentes -- Fuentes -- about what might be taking place now involving the FBI as it pertains to the inspection of these other 13 packages that may have made its way into the U.S. from Yemen, as Jeanne was talking about.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Fredricka.
Well, as Jeanne mentioned, in the abundance of caution, they're going to continue to look at various packages as they arrive and as they're tracked into various locations in the U.S., just to be sure that there's no explosive device or other material, and plus investigate what's on those devices, hair, fibers, any other forensic evidence that may link all the packages together or especially the suspicious packages.
So, that will be ongoing, and -- and that will take some time, it will take a lot of time, to do that type of forensic work. The initial work will be to make sure they're not dangerous and there is no explosive. The second part of that will be the rest the forensic work to get the rest of the deals -- details.
If I could comment about the plane coming in to JFK --
FUENTES: We don't know what the threat is. We don't know yet what prompted them to have military escort of that aircraft. But I think that if there was any serious concern that that flight posed a danger, it would not be allowed to continue to head for the most populous airspace of the United States. That plane would be ordered down immediately, and not be allowed to continue to JFK. So, I think --
WHITFIELD: But given that's transatlantic -- given that's a transatlantic flight, might it be that JFK might be the first place with the right kind of security installation in place to be able to accommodate --
(CROSSTALK) FUENTES: No, that --
FUENTES: That doesn't matter.
FUENTES: They would have --
FUENTES: No, they would have other places they could put that plane down in the meantime as it was making its way from Canada to New York.
You may recall, a few months ago, an individual on a flight that was headed for Atlanta was coming over Canadian airspace and started to make suspicious comments about having a bomb, and not having a U.S. passport. That plane was forced to land in Maine.
So, -- and even if that plane had to make a U-turn or 90-degree right or left turn, I'm just saying, why would they, when it's 30 minutes from JFK, say, yes, go ahead and head for New York airspace, no problem.
WHITFIELD: But, clearly, these are unusual circumstances. It's not every day that we do have a fighter jet escort of any plane in -- in domestic airspace. So, wouldn't you lean toward this would be a security or close to a security emergency?
FUENTES: Exactly. Exactly.
And if there's enough of an emergency to put two military aircraft in the air next to that aircraft, then it should be enough of an emergency to get that plane on the ground as soon as possible, and in an -- unpopulated an area as possible, fuel permitting.
FUENTES: So, I'm just saying the fact that that's being allowed to continue to JFK, where you might have a situation occur, why would that be allowed? It wouldn't be, frankly.
You know, back to the packages, the inspection of, and what originated of these threats and this investigation, as it were, right now, we know that -- or at least officials are telling us there was a circuit board, as well as wires, that were attached to these devices overseas.
As they continue to inspect any packages that may originate from Yemen here in this country, the common denominators clearly are what investigators would be looking for. What else would they be looking for and what else does this tell you about the sophistication of these devices and what their potential might have been?
FUENTES: Well, there is no potential for damage if they don't have -- an explosive device can't explode if it doesn't have explosive material. So -- so, obviously, it's some type of either testing the system or possibly a hoax, like little kids pulling a fire alarm in a school, just to watch the rest of the world turn and burn in circles. So you don't know that part of it.
But, also, the idea that they have -- they have taken an innocent object and disguised it as an explosive, as opposed to an explosive disguised as an innocent object, so the idea being that they may wanted -- they may have wanted these devices to turn up and to be found and to have this alert go out, so that they could hear about what procedures are in place, actually, not so much test whether the devices could go through the system, but actually not want them to go through the system, want further explanation as to what security measures actually are used or not used.
I learned that UPS in fact has decided not to make a detailed statement. Well, that might be the kind of statement that the terrorists would be looking for, of wanting UPS or FedEx or U.S. or British authorities to describe what measures are actually used. And, when they get that information, in the future, try to exploit whatever gaps might be identified.
So, that could be the purpose of their exercise, identify gaps in the system.
WHITFIELD: Former FBI Assistant Director Thomas Fuentes, thanks for your time. Appreciate it -- Michael.
HOLMES: All right, we're going to take a short break here, as we continue to cover this still developing story. Got some good analysis coming your way from Baghdad. Mohammed Jamjoom is there. He just got back from Yemen. And also Chris Lawrence, who is at the Pentagon.
And we're going to keep an eye, too, on JFK waiting for that plane to arrive, that live picture coming to us from affiliate WABC. And we're going to be watching that.
Stick around. We will be right back.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
As a result of two suspicious devices that were located in packages, both at the East Midlands Airport in London, as well as at an airport in Dubai, now investigations are ongoing both abroad, as well as in the U.S.
Momentarily, about 45 minute from now, maybe even an hour from now, we understand the president of the United States will be speaking from the White House as it pertains to this investigation -- all this while we're also awaiting a United Arab Emirates flight to be arriving into New York's JFK Airport by fighter jet escort. That's why you're seeing those live images on the right-hand side of your screen, by way of WABC, our affiliate in New York. They're awaiting the arrival of this plane. We don't know the circumstances as to why this airline, this commercial airline, passenger airline, is being escorted by fighter jets, U.S. fighter jets, but, of course, as we learn more information, we will be able to bring that to you right away -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, we're going to get some analysis now from a couple of guys who know this region well.
You see Chris Lawrence is going to be at the Pentagon for us, and Mohammed Jamjoom, who is in Baghdad on assignment at the moment, but recently got back from Yemen.
You and I have talked about that trip there, Mohammed. Let's start with you.
Let's -- let's talk a little bit about al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. This is a group that basically was a combination of the Yemeni al Qaeda and the Saudi al Qaeda, not doing well in Saudi, because the Saudis have been able to crack down on them. What is their strength in Yemen?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, their strength -- actually, they're a lot stronger now than they were even a year ago.
What you have seen happen is, once, you know, Saudi Arabia effectively got rid of most of their al Qaeda militants, all those militants basically crossed the border into Yemen. They formed this network called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That's the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
And since they have formed, they have really been very bold in announcing that they're going to go after targets not just in -- in -- in countries close to them, like Saudi Arabia, which they have in the past year, but also internationally. They're going to target international targets as well.
Now, Yemen, in the past few months, has really changed their tone about al Qaeda. Whereas, before, they were really trying to downplay al Qaeda and saying that they had the problem under control, in the last several months, they have really stepped up their efforts in trying to get it under control.
You have seen a lot more strikes against al Qaeda militants, against al Qaeda hideouts. But they have also been very publicly asking for help from the U.S. and U.K., acknowledging that they're receiving training from the U.S. and the U.K. and from other countries, and saying that they really need to do something about it, because, if Yemen becomes a failed state, that's not just a problem for Yemen. That's a problem for the rest of the world.
When I was in Yemen, it was interesting to see what was going on. I was there last month for several weeks. While we were there, there were several strikes that happened in a province called Shabwa. That's in the country south. It's known as a militant stronghold.
This is the region where many people that radical U.S.-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is hiding. Now, because that's such a rugged, mountainous area, it's very hard for Yemeni security forces to get there. Nonetheless, in the past month, twice, they have struck targets there. They have gone after militants. They say they are going to continue to do so.
Now they're trying to affiliate with the tribes in that region, so that they can really go after them in an even bigger way, telling the -- the militants that we have the tribal support. We're really going to go after you in a big way.
But we have also seen al Qaeda strike back. We have seen them strike back not just against Yemeni targets in the past month. They have released audio messages where they have said they're going after the president. They have also hit foreign targets in the capital. So, it's a very big problem.
And the way the Yemeni government is dealing with it now is much different than before. And they're really saying that they need help to get this under control -- Michael.
HOLMES: They do have their own security service, though. And the lack of effectiveness of the government is certainly an issue.
Now, you spoke to the head of the security services. Give us a sense of how that interview went. And I think we have got some sound as well. You can toss to that.
JAMJOOM: That's right. We spoke to General Yahya Saleh. This was an exclusive interview we did the first days of October, when we were there. We asked him about the situation. Now, he acknowledged to us that the U.S. and the U.K. had been involved in airstrikes against al Qaeda in the past few years.
This has been a real sore point for the government there, because the government is afraid that, if they acknowledge more and more the involvement of the U.S. and the U.K. in their battle against al Qaeda, that the tribes will get upset.
Nonetheless, we asked him why it was important to battle al Qaeda and what he wanted the rest of the world to know. This is some of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. YAHYA SALEH, YEMENI CENTRAL SECURITY FORCES (through translator): Fighting al Qaeda is not only done by the military. Combating it also happens from an ideological point of view and from an economic point of view.
Al Qaeda members should be kicked out, like the ideas of the Nazis. Anyone who has the ideology of al Qaeda should be brought to justice anywhere in the world they might be, no matter what their nationality, color or race. (END VIDEO CLIP)
JAMJOOM: And, Michael, it's important to note that, besides General Saleh, we spoke to other senior government officials who told us, really, the best way that the U.S. or the U.K. and other countries can help Yemen isn't just to help militarily.
It's also to help them with humanitarian aid, because, as a result of a lot of these strikes that have gone on in their fight against al Qaeda, there's been a worsening humanitarian crisis there, a lot of displaced people in different regions, and they really need help to get that under control as well -- Michael.
HOLMES: Mohammed Jamjoom in Baghdad talking about Yemen, thanks. We will check in with you a little later.
I want to go to Chris Lawrence now at the Pentagon.
And, Chris, tell us a little bit about U.S. concerns when it comes to Yemen. They would like to make friends there, of course, with the government, but, when it's a weak government, there's a temptation to step it up yourself, isn't it?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly.
And, you know, I -- I spoke with a defense official here at the Pentagon just a few hours ago who said, despite the Yemeni government's best efforts so far, what they're seeing here at the Pentagon is a steady migration of al Qaeda leadership to Yemen.
He said it's now becoming a destination of choice for al Qaeda leadership who are planning attacks, not only in that part of the world, but trying to project power overseas as well.
You know, one point that Mohammed brought up was the funding, the aid. Yemen has been traditionally underfunded by the U.S. when compared to the amount of aid in dollars that we give to some of the other countries in that part of the world. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized about $150 -- $150 million in military spending that would go to planes, helicopters, additional training for Yemen's forces, specifically for them to fight al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
HOLMES: Right. Right.
LAWRENCE: We also --
HOLMES: I'm going to interrupt you there, Chris.
HOLMES: Sorry. We have got some new news.
Fred, what have you got?
WHITFIELD: OK. Well, you're looking at live pictures right now from our affiliate WABC of the skyline there, awaiting an arrival of a UAE flight, possibly that one right there -- maybe not, actually. That just looks like a singular flight making its way into Newark's JFK.
The distinction will be U.S. fighter jets that are escorting this UAE flight.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has a bit more information as to why, what may be on board this flight, why investigators feel so uneasy about this flight -- Jeanne.
MESERVE: Well, this flight originated in Sanaa, Yemen, yesterday. It's coming in from the United Arab Emirates.
Oh, excuse me, don't have the microphone. This always helps.
WHITFIELD: While we're waiting for --
MESERVE: Fredricka, can you hear me now?
WHITFIELD: Yes, I can, actually. Go ahead.
MESERVE: OK. I will just go ahead from here.
MESERVE: They're concerned about this flight because it originated in Yemen yesterday. It made a stop, and it's coming in now from the UAE, but it originated in Sanaa, which is the capital of Yemen.
And, of course, Yemen is the focus of concern today because of these devices -- or toner cartridge that was found in the U.K. and the other device that was found in Dubai.
As I reported to you earlier, there are some other packages that they're concerned about that also originated in Yemen that they want to take a closer look at. I was told by a law enforcement source that they have no specific intelligence indicating they're a threat, but there is a belief that one of those packages that they want to take a closer look at is on -- is on board this Emirates Flight 201, which is coming in shortly for a landing at JFK.
Those NORAD fighters have been escorting it since it came into U.S. air -- airspace, just as a precaution, just out of an abundance of caution, to make sure everything goes OK. As I say, they're looking for a package on that flight.
They are not looking, according to a law enforcement source, for any individuals that might be on that flight. This one is a passenger jet. The other flights that we know they have looked were of course cargo planes -- back to you.
And, Jeanne, real quick, just for clarification, because we're getting conflicting reports whether this is an Emirates flight or indeed a Turkish airliner, do you know whether that distinction has been made by your sources?
MESERVE: The information that I was given is that it is an Emirates flight, but this is a very fluid situation. If we get some different information, I will let you know pronto.
So, one more time, in about seven minutes, it's expected to land there at JFK. We will get more information as it happens.
We will be right back with more information, investigation going on here in the U.S., and, of course, abroad as well. Nic Robertson will be joining us from London right after this.
HOLMES: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of this breaking news, suspicious packages, and we have got it covered from all over the world.
On your left there, you're seeing a flight tracker graphic there of a plane that we're keeping a very close eye on. It is an Emirates Airlines flight. It is coming -- it's officially coming from Dubai to New York, but it originated in Yemen. And there's the concern.
And so we're keeping an eye on this flight. It's due to arrive in about literally four or five minutes from now. And our affiliate there has a live picture up from their chopper, WABC.
And if you see them zooming in on -- on planes, don't make any assumptions. We don't know which plane it is until we see that Emirates livery on its tail.
The suspicion there is only that it originated in Yemen. And with these packages, these suspicious packages, having originated there, too, obviously, authorities want to take a look what's going on inside that plane.
Now, also, we're keeping an eye on what's going to happen outside at the White House. About 45 minutes from now, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, is going to be making a statement on all of this.
Meanwhile, in London, Nic Robertson, senior international correspondent, joins us now to talk a little bit more about this.
Nic, I want you to tell me more about Yemen itself. We have -- we have covered al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the last few minutes, but Yemen itself, this is a country that is -- has oil, but it's pretty poor, and the porous nature of its borders and the weakness of the government, the government's difficulty in relating to the tribes in the area. And -- and, of course, the tribal system is everything.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is.
And if the government can't control and influence the tribes, and if the tribes can be influenced by the message of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, then this is what perhaps is -- is giving al Qaeda there a chance to get a foothold, a chance and the space, the physical space, and the lack of pressure from security forces, where they can develop new bombing techniques, like the technique we saw with the underpants bomber, Abdulmutallab, on that plane Christmas Day flying into Detroit.
The explosives didn't go off, but this was a new technique being used. This is possibly what we're -- what we're seeing here. And I think this is leading partly into what we're just hearing. We're just learning from the British government right now.
Theresa May, the home secretary here, is saying that the British government -- this is a statement just released by the home secretary here saying that the British government is urgently, urgently studying ways and reconsidering its security position vis-a-vis freight flights coming directly from Yemen.
So -- so, for the British government, this current state and situation in Yemen is cause for urgent concern. She also confirmed -- not to digress here, but she also -- about Yemen -- but she also confirmation that this suspect package being found today, she said that -- that the package is still being examined at this time, her top priority, she said, for the safety and security of the British -- British isles.
But she also said how Britain was working with its international partners at this time to try and run down all the leads that this current threat has been thrown up, and this current threat that everyone right now is pointing back to al Qaeda in Yemen -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes. As we wait for this Boeing 777 to arrive at JFK, we will keep that live picture up there, being escorted in by a couple of U.S. fighter jets, after being escorted over Canadian airspace by Canadian fighter jets.
Nic, it's -- what's interesting here is no explosive residue found on these suspicious packages. Obviously, they have been tampered with, computer circuit boards of wires and the like there. It's -- it's -- it's an odd sort of -- it's an odd sort of situation.
Now, what -- what -- what's your sort of thinking on this?
ROBERTSON: I think it's very hard to say, because we don't have all the facts at our disposal.
There's been talk of dry runs. Al Qaeda in the past hasn't been noted for doing dry runs. It tends to make a go of it, and -- and tries to do what it can. Abdul Mutallab, the underpants bomber, failed according to explosives experts because he hadn't been properly trained or through the dry runs of how to detonate the explosives.
And that's one of the typical weaknesses of Al Qaeda the international terror experts generally point to, the lack of training. So could this be some type of elaborate hoax? Are we going to get some kind of Internet statement from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen saying this is what we could have done, it could have been so much worse?
It seems to be a surprise that somebody would really believe that they could send a package from Yemen addressed to synagogues in the United States without that raising red flags.
And add into this again the sort of lack of thorough information that we have. The tipoffs -- this is what we're learning from British police here - that tipoffs led investigators to find the package in Britain at East Midlands airport in the first place. So none of this seems to add up.
So perhaps we'll see this is Al Qaeda just showing what they could be capable of, which comes down to something that they've talked about before, that Anwar al-Awlaki, this Yemeni cleric we talked about before, maximum effect with little impact. And we've seen terror groups do it before. It's a hoax. You don't have to do much and it has a big impact.
HOLMES: That's exactly right. That is the definition of terrorism. The point we need to raise every now and then is when we're talking about Al Qaeda, talk about what we're dealing with here. This is not an organization with an HQ you can go and bomb. It's not a traditional army. It is borderless and it's an ideology. Talk about the difficulties in fighting an ideology.
ROBERTSON: Well, I think what we've seen unfold since September the 11th tend to show the difficulty in taking on an ideology. There are times when the measures that are taken against taking on the people behind the ideology, they spin them and turn them around and use them against the west in this case.
If you look at the internet media campaigns that Al Qaeda has promoted and put out over the past decade, they've capitalized on what NATO, the United States, the allies have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. They turn things on their head and then use it to their advantage.
What we've also seen happen is that Al Qaeda has gained over the past decade a stronger foothold in Yemen, a stronger foothold in Somalia, in the north of Africa, places they are using as bases to train people to launch attacks.
And we've seen as well people in the United States and Britain and other countries in Europe would travel to these countries to learn techniques, to learn terrorist procedures, and come back. We just had a statement a few months ago by the head of British internal intelligence, MI-5, who says he fully expects an attack from people trained in Somalia by the Al Qaeda elements in Somalia.
So this, I suppose, is how you -- when you look at the Al Qaeda threat what's happened and how tough it is to tackle, they're able to use what counterterrorism officials, what law enforcement agencies do, turn that on its head, use it against to enhance their global message.
It appeals to a tiny, tiny fraction of people but those people appear to be dedicated enough to pursue these types of potentially very deadly attacks. We saw that in New York recently and there are plenty of other situations we could point to as well, Michael.
HOLMES: I want to remind you what they're watching. That is a live picture from our affiliate WABC. We're expecting an Emirates Airlines plane to arrive at JFK. It's being escorted by two U.S. fighter jets. It is officially a Dubai to New York flight but it did originate in Yemen. That is the concern.
Authorities given what's been happening with the packages from Yemen as well, they want to check it out. They want to see what's on that plane, perhaps most likely it's in the cargo hold.
I can't quite make that out. I'm not sure that is an Emirates livery there. Our affiliate obviously keeping an eye on every plane coming in. We'll let you know when it does arrive. It was due in actually four or five minutes ago. So we're keeping an eye on that now.
That is flight 202 from Dubai. It does look like it's the Emirates 201 rather from Dubai but originated in Yemen. That does look like it is the plane. We're watching that land. It will be met by the FBI and other authorities and given a good going-over I imagine particularly relating to cargo after these suspicious packages originated from the same place.
WHITFIELD: Both the FBI and the port authority police there in New York at JFK will be inspecting the plane as best they can and out of an abundance of caution. That was the terminology we heard from our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve earlier through her contacts.
You see right there that Emirates flight 201 making an landing after being escorted by U.S. fighter jets, as Michael just said, originating from Yemen but coming to Dubai on its way to New York. It is indeed a passenger flight.
Still an abundance of caution being applied to this flight because of its origin of Yemen, but earlier the concern has come from devices located on cargo planes. That taking place at the East Midlands airport in London as well as the Dubai airport.
These devices are very suspicious. They involved what appear to be toner cartridges. In the end they had circuit boards and wires attached. You've heard from various experts who have had perhaps this was a dry run for Al Qaeda. That's certainly the connection made between those packages and Al Qaeda, the packages originating from Yemen and bound for Chicago, possibly some synagogues or Jewish installations in Chicago.
Emirates flight 201 landing safely at JFK. It is indeed a passenger flight, and again FBI and Port Authority inspectors will be giving a very thorough once over of this plane.
And then we know about 45 minutes from now, maybe a little bit less than that, the president of the United States is expected to comment on this investigation going on in the United States and abroad and the cooperation that of course that will have to take place in this very thorough investigation.
We know for certain involving Great Britain, the U.S., possibly Yemen. We've heard various things about what the cooperation might be like between the U.S. and Yemen.
HOLMES: The difficulty is going to be with Yemen. It is a very weak government. They don't only much outside of the capital. And dealing with the government -- that's why we've seen this temptation by the U.S. perhaps to use drones in Yemen when they can acquire a target of significance. And it's an ideal country for an organization like Al Qaeda to operate in. Very little control by the government --
WHITFIELD: Very porous nation.
HOLMES: A tribal situation where if you can win over the tribes, the tribes don't like the government, then you've got local support on the ground. You can be harbored if you like and given supplies and safe cover.
That Emirates jet taxis in. That's a long flight too. The passenger coming off a 14 hour flight.
WHITFIELD: They likely have no idea what's been going on unless they looked out the window and thought there was a fighter jet. That would be the only indicator
HOLMES: Hopefully the pilot told them something because otherwise it would have been a bit of a thrill ride. I've done that flight a few times. It's a long flight. They'll be keen to get off the plane.
WHITFIELD: All right, we'll continue to monitor developments here and see what takes place, how this plane just might be surrounded, if they will allow people to deplane first. We're not really sure what the sequence of events will be. We'll be right back right after this break.
WHITFIELD: A number of developments we continue to watch right here this hour. And you've seen right there on the screen. A number of experts we're going to be talking to over the next hour and a half. We're going to be talking about why that Emirates flight was escorted by U.S. fighter jets to JFK airport in New York. Just moments ago it landed.
We're going to talk about how the investigation will proceed involving two suspicious devices that were located involving cargo planes at east midlands airport in London as well as Dubai's airport. The primary concern has been about these devices that they originated in Yemen and apparently had addresses on their way to Chicago. So again live pictures right now. You're seeing the vehicles beginning to surround this taxiing jet here, a Boeing 777, Emirates flight 201 originating from Yemen, but it came directly from Dubai to New York before being escorted by the U.S. fighter jets.
We understand that the FBI as well as the Port Authority police will be looking into this plane out of an abundance of caution, according to sources who talked to our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve. That's why in large part this flight was escorted by U.S. fighter jets.
Right now I have CNN terrorism analyst expert Paul Cruickshank who is with us now joining us from New York. So Paul, give me an idea why out of an abundance of caution -- we know because it originated from Yemen that was one big red flag. But give me an idea of what investigators will be probing as it pertains to this plane. Is it the cargo, the passengers in particular? What?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, in an investigation like this, this is standard protocol out of an abundance of caution. They would escort a jet like this into landing if there is indeed cargo linked to Yemen. They don't want to take chances as they investigate this at the moment.
WHITFIELD: The FBI is involved here as well as the Port Authority. It should be getting the first once over of this flight. Give me the idea of the red flags that come to mind for you when you hear about the details of the components of these devices that were located - a circuit board, wires. They originated from Yemen. We know Yemen to be a very porous nation and one that Al Qaeda has gotten very comfortable in operating out of.
CRUICKSHANK: What hasn't been found here, it seems, is actual explosives in these devices. That would suggest it's not actually an attempted attack that we're seeing here at the moment.
Now, Al Qaeda in Yemen have been trying to attack the United States in recent times. But one of the lead he Anwar al-Awlaki says any way we can attack the United States. This may be a case of that playing out here.
There are several Americans who have joined the Al Qaeda in Yemen and understand the vulnerabilities here in the United States in aviation and cargo and things like that. And they may be trying to exploit the vulnerabilities today.
WHITFIELD: We heard from one expert earlier who said it's a possibility that those responsible for this device actually wanted this kinds of attention perhaps to see how UPS, how FedEx, how the United States, Federal Aviation Authority might be responding to this, what it is willing to say -- these agencies are willing to say publicly.
CRUICKSHANK: Could you just repeat that? Sorry. WHITFIELD: We heard from some experts who believe that whoever is responsible for these devices really did want to hear how American authorities, how the FedEx, how UPS might be responding to this publicly and are hoping to glean information based on the response of the discovery of these packages. Would you agree with that?
CRUICKSHANK: That's absolutely right. This could be a dry run where they're trying to test the defenses, trying to probe.
But some people may regard it rather strange with a mailed device, something they're trying to post addresses perhaps in Chicago that they'd do a dry run. Why not just try to do the attack anyway, some experts would think at this point?
WHITFIELD: Why wouldn't one think with these devices, those who sent them, didn't intend for them to be discovered but instead hoped they'd be received and attached to some other working components to make it into a complete explosive device?
CRUICKSHANK: That's possible. What we're not hearing at the moment, that there was somebody in the United States who was ready to receive this. The indication seems to be at this point they were mailed directly to addresses in Chicago, to synagogues in Chicago.
And one could speculate that when people opened these devices they would perhaps get a nasty surprise. But there were no explosives in these devices as we understand at this moment. Tests are still going on in the U.K. at this moment, but hours after these things were discovered, no explosives have been found as we understand at this time.
WHITFIELD: Paul Cruickshank, thanks so much. Michael?
HOLMES: Will Geddes is the managing director of the ICP, International Corporate Protection Group. He advises global corporation and government agencies on counterterrorism measures including those involving Al Qaeda.
I want you to tell me, Will, what you have make of this. As we're just hearing then, no explosives in it, odd sorts of devices. The definition of terror really is to create havoc. This is kind of havoc, isn't it?
WILL GEDDES, TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. I think they've done an excellent job, if you like, in the most negative sense, of causing massive disruption and certainly flaring up Homeland Security in their response and their shot down around certainly these specific planes.
HOLMES: When you look at a place like Yemen -- we discussed the porous borders and weak government and the like. When you talk about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, this is an organization -- actually just a group sharing the same ideology who call Osama bin Laden their leader. There are Americans who have gone to join this group as well.
The difficulty of fighting a group in a country like that where you really can't get to them.
GEDDES: Absolutely. Yemen is one of these really problematic areas. It has very little infrastructural control in terms of internal security. Al Qaeda affiliated or follower groups have been operating there quite virulently for quite some time. There have been a lot of attacks against foreign assets and international companies that have been operating down there.
There's a lot of tribal disruption that's going on down there. So it's not surprising these threats are originating from there.
HOLMES: We continue to watch the Emirates flight as the stairs go up to get the passengers off. Quickly tell me what is interesting, this is the place where the underpants bomber came from and this in a toner cartridge. Inventive stuff, is it fair to say?
GEDDES: Yes. Certainly one of the things about Al Qaeda is when we look at these sort of printer cartridges, Al Qaeda supported groups like to conceal their IEDs in everyday objects. And this is not untypical of their sort of modus operandi. So to look at this, again, it doesn't come surprising in terms of the housing.
In terms of this perhaps as a dry run, that would fall into a typical planning cycle for any terrorist group. It could be the ripple in the pond effect. They wanted to extend this off as a dry run, should the devices have been discovered to see how the various international agencies would respond.
HOLMES: What's also interesting too in terms of tactics -- and this is all supposition of sorts. If you're running Al Qaeda in Yemen, Yemen of course is known as a base for Al Qaeda, and you have got something theoretically gets through what security arrangement are in place at the moment, why wouldn't you send it to Europe and ship it from there? A whole lot less of a red flag.
GEDDES: There is. But, again, from operating in that territory and using a cargo airliner and someone like UPS was probably considerably easier. Certainly the airport security measures in Yemen will work on your typical supply chain.
In terms of the verification obviously UPS would no doubt be looking at how and what security procedures they could supplement on what would be available down there. But ultimately there could be infiltration by Al Qaeda supporters within the airport, which would have made it a lot easier to get on to a cargo plane than a commercial airline where protocols would have been more stringent.
HOLMES: Thanks for that. Stick around. We'll probably come back to you.
WHITFIELD: Michael, while we're looking at a passenger jet there as it continues to be scrutinized there at New York's JFK airport, all of this stems from devices found on cargo planes.
So when we come back we're going to talk to a former cargo pilot about the former cargo pilot about the kinds of inspections that take place, whether it's here domestically or abroad.
WHITFIELD: Among the developments we continue to watch right now, you're looking at live pictures of both the Emirates flight 201 that originated in Yemen, made its way to Dubai, and then was escorted by U.S. to New York's JFK airport.
A former cargo pilot John Lucich is with us now. So give me an idea, Mr. Lucich, how thorough are the inspections of cargo flights?
JOHN LUCICH, FORMER INVESTIGATOR, NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: Well, you know, we're talking about thousands and thousands of packages on a jumbo jet like this. So it's an intense scrutiny. They use x-rays, computer topography. They use things, including sniffing dogs.
The one thing I'm concerned about with this particular incident is they left the wires sticking out. It's almost like they want to be noticed. So I've got to agree with one of the directors you had on from the FBI where they want to hear the chatter back and forth about the security.
But the other part is law enforcement tends to be reactive. Part of this may be to get law enforcement to shift their resources back to aircraft and forget about tunnels, bridges, and buildings, and bring a bomb in by truck.
WHITFIELD: So when you were flying these cargo jets, how much did you know about the cargo, the items onboard, how thoroughly they had been inspected, or perhaps how they -- how gaps had been left in the inspection process.
LUCICH: Certainly when I was flying cargo, we didn't have the terrorism like we do today. Pilots know nothing about what's back there. Pilots don't have the time to go through thousands and thousands of packages. It's done at the facility.
And they better find it before they put it on the airplane, because it's way too late for the pilots to be concerned about that. They are doing their job. They need the security and everybody else to do their jobs. They're loading thousands and thousands of packages onto these airplanes.
WHITFIELD: Are the standards different domestically than they are abroad in your view?
LUCICH: Sure. I don't believe -- domestically, I think the United States is doing a great job. I don't remember an incident that stemmed from the United States where we're finding something like this.
When we see all this stuff coming out of Yemen, I think what we need do right now is to go to the U.K., find out what they did there, that this package was discovered, why it was not discovered and change things at Yemen. But, again, this could have been a decoy. So we will find it. If you're going to do a dry run, in my opinion, at least, you're going to wrap this up so it looked like it's just a toner cartridge, not with wires sticking out. I've got to wonder why that was left like that.
WHITFIELD: Are you hopeful that the discoveries were made before making its way to U.S. soil if, perhaps, at least sources are telling us that they were U.S. bound, they were Chicago bound. The discoveries were made in London and Dubai.
LUCICH: I'm certainly grateful for that. However, there were no explosives in there to go off so it wouldn't make a difference if it was. It shows how security in the U.K. works, but it also show just how vulnerable we are for flights coming in from places outside of the United States.
I think that we've got to take a look at that and judge that accordingly and actually change our resources to see what's going on with that.
WHITFIELD: Thanks so much for your time. Appreciate that. Michael?
HOLMES: We're going to continue our coverage of this breaking news and a reminder that we're standing by for a live address from President Obama. That's due to take place in less than 20 minutes from now, 4:15 eastern time.
It's not going to be a long address, we're told. It's going to be brief. And then after that, we're going to be having a press briefing from the press secretary. We'll be right back.