Suspicious packages bound for Chicago religious institutions

Authorities investigating cargo flights from overseas

October 29, 2010

By City Room and Dina Temple-Raston

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(AP/Matt Rourke)
A UPS jet isolated on a runway in Philadelphia. Officials are investigating reports of suspicious packages on cargo planes.

Updated At: 5:15pm on 10/29/2010

U.S. officials say they believe two packages bound for the United States contained the same powerful explosive used in the failed Christmas Day airline bombing. The officials said full testing has not been completed but initial indications are the packages contained PETN, a chemical that was also a component of shoe bomber Richard Reid's explosive in 2001.

The packages were seized in Dubai and England on Friday. President Barack Obama called it a credible terrorist threat.

PETN is the primary ingredient in detonating cords used for industrial explosions and is popular among terrorist groups. It is a white powder. Officials have confirmed the package in England contained a white powder.

The FBI was looking into a series of possible suspicious packages on three UPS planes that landed in the U.S. on Friday morning from Europe, including at least two packages that were addressed to religious institutions in Chicago, the White House and the FBI have confirmed.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies found out Thursday night about suspicious packages on two planes bound for the United States, according to a statement from the White House.  Those flights originated in London and Dubai.

Two suspicious packages were addressed to religious institutions in Chicago, and all churches, synagogues and mosques in the city have been put on alert, said Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman in Chicago. He added that there are "no identifiable or specific threats" to the region.

A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago, a Jewish Group, told WBEZ the group had been warned by authorities to be on alert before news of the incident broke Friday afternoon. And Linda Haase of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago told the Associated Press the group was notified early Friday and is "taking appropriate precautions." It's unclear whether those were the two groups to whom the suspicious packages were addressed, however.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation said they were made aware of the situation, but wouldn't comment on any stepped-up security measures at O'Hare or Midway Airports, except to say that they had not received any bomb threats.

Authorities did confirm that one of the cargo planes thought to be carrying suspicious packages came in from Paris and another from Cologne, Germany. Both landed at Philadelphia International Airport and were taken to a remote tarmac for inspection. The third flight originated in East Midlands in the United Kingdom. The FBI was inspecting that plane at New Jersey's Newark airport.

Two sources close to the investigation backed away from earlier reports indicating that a possible bomb had been discovered on a UPS plane in the U.K. They said it was a printer toner cartridge that had been "manipulated" in some way. Tests conducted for explosives came back negative.

Officials also told NPR that a UPS truck in Brooklyn, N.Y., was being swept because of a suspicious package. The New York Police Department and the FBI could not provide details on that incident.

Reports of suspicious packages are common. But Friday's events were unusual because of the sheer number and the various cities that were simultaneously involved. Authorities said the checks were being done "out of an abundance of caution." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio.