DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Yemen-based al-Qaida group on Friday claimed responsibility for the international mail bomb plot uncovered late last week as well as the crash of a United Parcel Service cargo plane in September.
A week after authorities intercepted packages in Dubai and Britain that were bound for the U.S., al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula issued a statement taking credit for the plot and saying it would continue to strike American and Western interests. The group specifically said it would target civilian and cargo aircraft.
"We have struck three blows at your airplanes in a single year. And God willing, we will continue to strike our blows against American interests and the interests of America's allies," the group said in a message posted on a militant website.
The authenticity of Friday's claim could not be immediately verified. A U.S. intelligence official said authorities are not surprised to see this claim now.
U.S. officials have said all week that there were strong indications the plot originated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a terror group that has become al-Qaida's most active franchise and has increasingly carried out attacks on Western targets.
Authorities in the U.S. and the UAE have said the Sept. 3 crash of the UPS plane in Dubai shortly after takeoff was caused by an onboard fire, but investigators are taking another look at the incident following the parcel bomb plot.
A security official in the UAE familiar with the investigations into the UPS cargo plane crash in Dubai and the mail bombs plot told The Associated Press Friday that there is no change in earlier findings and that the UPS crash in September was likely caused by an onboard fire and not by an explosive device.
"There was no explosion," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under standing UAE rules on disclosing security-related information.
A UPS spokesman, Norman Black, said his company had "no independent knowledge of this claim by al-Qaida," and noted that both UAE officials and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board officials have so far ruled out the possibility of a bomb as cause in the crash.
In its statement, al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot said that it "downed the UPS airplane but because the enemy's media did not attribute the act to us, we kept silent about the operation until we could return the ball once more.
"We have done that, this time with two explosives, one of them sent via UPS, the other via FedEx."
It said that its "advanced explosives" give it "the opportunity to detonate (planes) in the air or after they have reached their final target, and they are designed to bypass all detection devices."
Both mail bombs were hidden inside computer printers and wired to detonators that used cell-phone technology and packed powdered PETN, a potent industrial explosive.
The message also directed a warning to Saudi Arabia, which was instrumental in passing along the key tip that led to the discovery of the bombs: "These explosives were directed at Jewish Zionist temples, and you intervened to protect them with your treason. God's curse on the oppressors."
Al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen grew strength after several key leaders escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006. In 2009, it was further bolstered by a merger with Saudi al-Qaida militants to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The group first made a stunning show of its international reach in December, when it allegedly plotted a failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a passenger jet over the U.S. The Obama administration branded the terror group a global threat, and has dramatically stepped up its alliance with Yemen's government to uproot it.
"AQAP continues to probe for weaknesses in our ability to disrupt, detect or stop their operations," said Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican who serves on the House intelligence terrorism subcommittee.
He expressed little surprise at the claim, saying:
"They are agile and determined. So must we be."
Baldor reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Samantha Bomkamp in New York City and Eileen Sullivan, Adam Goldman and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.
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