The delicate process of defusing a bomb cannot be rushed – and in the case of two Chicago synagogues, that meant only 17 minutes stood between the sapper and one massive explosion.
According to French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, one of the two mail bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues, intercepted last week by authorities in the UK and UAE, was caught just in the nick of time.
Tipped off by Saudi Arabian intelligence agents, investigators pulled the bombs from cargo planes at airports in England and the United Arab Emirates.
Sappers managed to disarm the device only 17 minutes before it was set to go off, according to Hortefeux, who refused to release further details in an interview on state-run France-2 television. He also would not reveal the source of the information on the timing.
Although the packages were addressed to two Chicago synagogues, the addresses were out of date – and the names on the packages included a reference to the Crusades, fought between the Christians and Muslims.
As a result, officials are now saying they do not believe the synagogues were the intended targets.
One of the bombs, pulled off a plane and defused in Dubai, had been on two prior flights before it was noticed – first on a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 jet to Doha, and then on a flight, not yet identified, from Doha to Dubai.
A syringe containing lead azide, the chemical used to detonate the hundreds of grams of PETN, an industrial explosive, was connected to the package – a computer printer cartridge wired to a cell phone.
The two bombs contained 300 and 400 grams of PETN, according to a German security official who briefed reporters Monday in Berlin. Anonymity was maintained in line with department regulations.
Because the communication cards were removed, and the cell phones could not receive calls, U.S. officials have said it was likely that terrorists intended the alarm or timer functions to operate as detonators.
Yemeni al-Qaeda’s top bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is the focus of the global investigation into the narrowly averted attack which resembles an incident last December in which a Nigerian national was discovered aboard a Detroit-bound flight with 80 grams of PETN sewn into his underwear.