[Video below.] Two packages containing explosives and bound for Chicago area Jewish institutions were intercepted in what President Obama called a “credible terrorist threat against our country.”
Obama was alerted Thursday night to the plot, which involved packages sent on cargo jets from Yemen.
President Obama said in a briefing Friday that the intercepted devices were not part of a “dry run,” but rather a credible threat to the United States.
While noting that U.S. officials are still “pursuing all the facts,” Obama said U.S. officials know that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, “continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens and our friends and allies.”
A federal source told the Chicago Sun-Times at least one Chicago synagogue and one Jewish Community Center had been targeted.
The JCC — a 107-year-old service organization “dedicated to ensuring a strong and vibrant Jewish life and community” — has seven community centers in the area, including Rogers Park, Lake View and Hyde Park, according to its website. It also runs 15 preschools. No one with the JCC could be reached for comment Friday.
The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was alerted about the possible threat by authorities Friday morning, according to Linda Haase, associate vice president.
“We are taking appropriate precautions, and we are advising local synagogues to do likewise,” Haase said. “Sadly, this is not the first time the Jewish community has had to deal with a security issue.”
While it was not immediately known which synagogue was targeted, federal officials said that neither package was addressed to KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue, which is across the street from Obama’s Kenwood home. Michelle Obama was in town Friday for a memorial service for Bishop Arthur M. Brazier. The president is expected to be in town today for a pre-election rally.
Gov. Quinn said he has been in touch with leaders of the state’s Jewish community.
“I have committed the full resources of the State of Illinois — working cooperatively with federal and local officials — to ensure the continued safety and security of everyone in our state,” Quinn said. “My thoughts are with Illinois’ Jewish community, and I urge everyone to stand together in unity during this time.”
Chicago FBI spokesman Ross Rice said both packages were sent from the same address in Yemen.
Authorities in Dubai intercepted one explosive device. The second package was aboard a plane searched in East Midlands, which is north of London, and officials said it contained a printer toner cartridge with wires and powder. White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said the devices were in packages about the size of a breadbox.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Lake View noted that Friday night began the Jewish sabbath, and that it was important for things to carry on as usual.
“We need to not let the terrorists stop us,” Lopatin said, adding: “We have to be cautious and vigilant but not panic.”
“I don’t know why they chose Chicago, but it wakes you up out of your complacency, and hopefully, we’ll be safe and more vigilant in the future,” Lopatin said.
Several cargo planes along the East Coast were searched, but no explosives were found. An Emirates Airlines passenger jet carrying cargo from Yemen was escorted from the Canadian border to New York City by two military fighter jets, U.S. officials said. They said it was a precautionary action.
The Department of Homeland Security said that it has taken steps to enhance security at the nation’s airports, including heightened cargo screening. The Homeland Security Department said that passengers should expect an “unpredictable mix of security layers” that include canine teams and patdowns.
U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they were increasingly certain that Yemen’s al-Qaida branch was the source. The same group was responsible for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas.
The radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who now lives in hiding in Yemen, is believed to have helped inspire recent attacks, including the Fort Hood shooting, the Times Square bombing attempt and the failed Christmas airliner bombing.
Before the attempted Detroit bombing, the U.S. had regarded al-Qaida’s Yemen branch as primarily a threat in the region, not to the United States.
Brennan said that a forensic analysis is under way for the two packages. He said the initial analysis shows the materials found in the device were “intended to do harm.”
Intelligence personnel had been monitoring a suspected plot for days, officials said. The packages were discovered after a foreign intelligence service picked up information related to Yemen and passed it on to the United States. The Yemeni government has stepped up counterterrorism operations with help from the U.S. military and intelligence officials.
UPS immediately suspended service out of Yemen.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said Illinois Muslims stand united with Jewish organizations in condemning “this terrorist and heinous act.”
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