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The View from Yemen: They're Looking Into It

What Obama has called a "credible terrorist threat" is being played down in Sanaa.


SANAA, Yemen — Yemen has promised a thorough investigation into the major security incident on Friday involving packages sent from Yemen containing explosive materials destined for the United States.

Two suspicious packages being flown from Yemen to the United States were found in Britain and Dubai on Friday after a tip prompted authorities to search cargo planes on both sides of the Atlantic.

The discovery of the packages destined for Jewish places of worship in Chicago, unleashed an international security alert Friday as investigators swept U.S. cargo planes for possible Al Qaeda bombs.

“The Yemeni government has launched a full scale investigation. We are working closely with international partners — including the U.S. — on the incident,” Yemen Embassy spokesman Mohammed Albasha said on Friday.

Yemeni authorities had earlier played down the possibility of multi-suspect packages leaving the country.

"No UPS or DHL cargo packages heading to Chicago through Yemen took place in the last 48 hours. These accusations are false and baseless," Mohammed al-Shaibah, Air Cargo Director for Yemenia Airways, told local press on Friday.

But a statement by the White House on Friday afternoon indicated that the packages had originated from Yemen.

“Although we are still pursuing all the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen,” President Barack Obama said at a White House press conference.

Obama said the discovery represented a “credible terrorist threat” against the U.S.

Yemen Export regulations prohibit the sending abroad of weapons, firearms and explosives. In order to export goods from Yemen a customs declaration is required to be filed including a certification of origin and a bill of lading.

“All packages are checked very carefully in Yemen,” said Mohammed al-Shaibah on Friday.

FedEx, the world’s largest cargo airline, confirmed that the suspicious package seized at its Dubai facility originated in Yemen. It had suspended all shipments, originating from the coutry, a spokesman added.

There are currently no direct passenger flights from Yemen to the U.K or the U.S. In January, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the cancellation of all direct flights following the attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit flight by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The failed attack on Christmas Day 2009, believed to have originated in Yemen, was the first operation mounted outside the Middle East by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based organization with close links to the Al Qaeda core in Pakistan. (Read GlobalPost's primer on Yemen's festering hotbed of extremism.)

“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to plan attacks on our homeland, our citizens and our friends and allies," said Obama on Friday.

Obama said Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, had pledged his government's support in efforts to root out terrorist plots in the country.

Yemen, the poorest Arabian state and the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, has recently stepped up its fight against Al Qaeda, launching a series of airstrikes in the southern province of Abyan. The country has received on average between $20 and $25 million annually in total U.S. foreign aid. In 2010 U.S. aid to Yemen was more than doubled to $58.4 million. The Defense Department has also provided Yemen's security forces with $150 million worth of training and equipment this year.

With additional reporting from Iona Craig.