Two parcel bombs that were found in on Dubai and the UK on 29 October have exposed security weaknesses in the region’s air cargo industry.
“The cargo sector [had] not been identified as a potential threat and therefore the screening mechanisms were not as stringent when compared to the passenger aircraft,” says John Siddarth, industry analyst for South Asia and Middle East at US-based consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
The bombs, believed to have been sent by Al-Qaeda were addressed to synagogues in Chicago. They bombs are said to have contained pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), which is a powerful, plastic explosive and not easily detected.
Al-Qaeda attacks have previously targeted passenger aircraft. “The aviation industry faced threats of terrorist attacks on commercial airplanes [before]. However, a new phase of terrorist threats has been unveiled in the past few days in the freight sector – cargo bombs,” Siddarth says.
The parcel bomb was discovered on a Qatar Airways passenger plane, the airline confirms. The plane was travelling from Sana’a airport in Yemen to Dubai via Doha International airport.
“As per [the] Chicago convention, it is not the responsibility of the country in which the cargo transits to x-ray or inspect the cargo. This responsibility belongs to the country from where the consignment originates,” Qatar Airways says in a statement.
The airline also adds that the explosives were only discovered after an intelligence tip-off.
“The explosives discovered were of a sophisticated nature whereby they could not be detected by x-ray screening or trained sniffer dogs,” the statement says.
Yemen’s Civil Aviation Authority is now studying ways to improve the freight screening process at its airports.