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UAE’s Emirates, Etihad airlines halt Yemen cargo

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DUBAI: Airlines in the United Arab Emirates say they have stopped carrying cargo from Yemen as a precaution following the discovery of two mail bombs shipped as air freight.

The Middle East’s biggest airline Emirates, which operates out of Dubai, and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways each confirmed the cargo embargoes in response to questions Sunday. Discount carrier Air Arabia, based in the emirate of Sharjah, also said it had stopped accepting freight originating in Yemen.

It is unclear when exactly the bans were implemented, but they have been in place since at least last week, spokesmen for two of the carriers said.

Etihad also said it has stopped carrying goods from Somalia, which sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen and maintains long-standing trade ties with its Arabian neighbor.

It said in a brief statement the bans will hold "until directives from governments around the world permit carriage of goods from these ports."

The UAE late last week announced it was tightening security at the country’s airports to more closely monitor goods from certain unnamed countries. It did not provide details or name the countries in question.

Saif Al-Suwaidi, director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, told The Associated Press on Saturday that officials were not only focused on security threats from Yemen, but from other countries as well.

"We are concentrating on having a system in place to prevent penetration from any part of the world," he said.

One of two packages sent in the mail bomb plot late last month was discovered at a FedEx cargo facility by UAE authorities in Dubai. It arrived in the city-state after traveling on two separate Qatar Airways flights. Officials for that carrier did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their cargo policies Sunday.

Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the bombs and has vowed to send more explosives-packed parcels.

International courier companies routinely ship packages on scheduled commercial flights. FedEx, UPS and Mideast-based shipping company Aramex each put bans on Yemen cargo in place shortly after the bomb plot was discovered.

Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis, a think tank in Dubai, said it was appropriate for airlines to halt Yemen shipments given the circumstances. But he cautioned that Al-Qaeda in Yemen could try to shift its operations elsewhere to circumvent the embargoes.

"The first layer is to isolate the Yemen case, then see what the impact is, and then decide if that (ban) needs to be expanded to other countries," he said.

Interpol on Saturday released details and photographs of the two US-bound mail bombs intercepted by authorities in Dubai and the UK to encourage police and the public to watch out for similar packages.

The police agency posted a four-page warning, where it listed a number of signs that indicate the packages should be treated with suspicion: unbalanced packaging; uneven weight; excessive use of sealing tape; stains, discoloration or other wrapping markings; strange odors; protruding wires; excess postage paid.

Interpol said such explosives cannot be detected by using standard X-ray equipment, but noted that airport "puffer" machines, swab tests and bomb-sniffing dogs could help aid detection.

 

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