Security measures stepped up in Yemen, more Al-Qaeda members arrested

Terrorist blasts in Baghdad leave more than 350 killed or wounded in just one day

Dozens killed or wounded in attack on church in Iraq amidst Arab, Islamic, int’l condemnation

Terrorist attack hits central Istanbul, leaves scores wounded

Britain began requiring tighter screenings for some air cargo passing through the U.K. because of the recent mail bomb plot, an official said.

Cargo originating from some cities in India, Qatar, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Maldives, Sudan and Libya will have to be re-screened after arriving in Britain before being loaded onto onward flights, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said.

Currently such flights do not need to be screened in the U.K. Hammond spoke to reporters after meeting with representatives from the aviation and freight industries. He said they also discussed a proposed system of grading countries sending air cargo to the U.K. according to perceived risk.

For example, countries that have screening measures matching those of the U.K. and the European Union could have easier access to the U.K. than those that don't.

No details were set, but the proposal will be discussed during a meeting later this month by Britain's National Security Council.

The government announced last week it is banning all air cargo from Somalia and Yemen after a mail bomb bound for Chicago from Yemen was found on a cargo plane in England.

Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic said that bomb and another one found in the United Arab Emirates were made and sent by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen. The bombs were wired to cell phones and hidden in cartridges of computer printers.

State media says Yemen will inspect all cargo shipments under 'exceptional' security measures, after two US-bound bomb parcels were sent from the country.

Yemen's national committee for civil aviation security has decided 'to implement exceptional security measures on all cargo leaving Yemeni airports to ensure the safety of civil aviation', Saba said, quoting a committee statement.

Earlier it had been revealed that one of two intercepted parcel bombs sent from Yemen traveled on a passenger plane.

A Qatar Airways source said that a package containing explosives was flown from Sana’a to Doha, then on to Dubai, on one of its aircraft, which the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said was a passenger plane.

In the United States, a US official described Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, an alleged al-Qaeda bomb-maker born in Saudi Arabia but based in Yemen, as a 'leading suspect' in the parcel bomb plot.

'Al-Asiri's past activities and explosives' experience make him a leading suspect,' the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

'There are indications he may have had a role in past AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) plots, including the attempted assassination of a Saudi official and last year's failed Christmas Day attack.'

Counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, meanwhile, said there was no intelligence indicating there were any additional parcel bombs from Yemen, although he refused to rule out the possibility.

He also said that evidence suggested the same person built the parcel bombs and the device worn by the 'underwear' bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who botched an attack on a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

In Yemen, security forces detained a woman tracked down through a mobile number written on the explosives-filled packages, which were intercepted in Britain and Dubai the day before, Yemeni officials said.

Hundreds of students rallied at Sana’a University calling for the release of the woman, who a rights group identified as Hanan al-Samawi, 22.

The Hood rights group's Abdul Rahman Barman told AFP he doubted Samawi was behind the plot as she had no known Islamist links and al-Qaeda was unlikely to have left behind an incriminating phone number.

Barman said his group received information that 'all employees' from the Sana’a offices of FedEx and UPS - the services on which the packages were reportedly posted - had also been detained for questioning.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said security services 'received information that a girl has sent the parcels from the two cargo companies', apparently referring to UPS and FedEx.

The arrested woman, a medical student at Sana’a university whose father is a petroleum engineer, was held with her mother, a Yemeni security official said.

Security forces closed the offices of the US firms, while setting up barricades in most areas of the Yemeni capital, checking the identification of car passengers.

Yemeni officials said they were examining 26 other seized packages.

Yemen is studying the security system on cargo to enforce stricter measures, Qatar's state news agency QNA quoted an official from the Yemeni civil aviation authority, Mohammed Abdulqader, as saying last week.

Yemen has invested huge sums in the field of security equipment in airports and has installed sophisticated systems to detect explosives and inspect passengers, baggage and freight, he said.

Britain also said that it will review how freight is screened.

Shortly after the discovery of the bombs, Britain banned all freight from Yemen from coming into the country, including in transit. Last week, France took similar measures, suspending air freight from Yemen.

Stringent measures were imposed around the world as British Prime Minister David Cameron said the bomb found at an airport in central England was apparently designed to blow the plane out of the sky.

US officials have said the two intercepted packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

US President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of AQAP, the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network, and has vowed to wipe out the organization.

Dubai police said the parcel bomb found in the city-state bore the 'hallmarks of al-Qaeda'. It involved the high explosive PETN hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile phone SIM card attached.

Meanwhile, at least 74 people were killed and more than 300 others were injured when a series of blasts struck targets across the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Iraqi hospital and police officials said.

Sixteen blasts, including at least thirteen car bombs, were heard in several neighborhoods in Baghdad, including Kadhimiya, Amil, Bayaa, Shulaa, Ur, Zuhour, Sadr City, and Yarmouk, most of them being Shiite neighborhoods.

Baghdad police said at least 74 people were killed in the attacks, while 327 others were wounded. Officials fear the number of fatalities could still rise, as some of the wounded are in a critical condition.

The blasts came after a group of gunmen raided the 'Our Lady of Salvation Church', located in the Karrada District of Baghdad. After taking around 100 people hostage, the hostage situation ended with 58 people being killed and dozens more wounded.

Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq has threatened more attacks on Christians following a bloody siege at a Baghdad church that left 58 people dead, saying the "killing sword will not be lifted" from their necks.

The Islamic State of Iraq's warning of further violence against Christians comes two days after the group's assault on a Catholic church in downtown Baghdad — the deadliest attack ever recorded against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as the community has fled to other countries.

"We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood," the insurgent group said in a statement posted on militant websites.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq and other allied Sunni insurgent factions, also said its deadline for the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt to release Muslim women that the militant group claims are being held captive has expired.

As a result, "all Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahideen [holy warriors] wherever they can reach them," the group said. The statement did not specify any one location, raising the specter of violence against Christians across the region.

The release of the women in Egypt was one of the militants' demands during last week’s siege, along with the release of al-Qaeda-linked prisoners held in Iraq.

The militants have specifically mentioned two Egyptian women who are married to Coptic priests. Some believe they converted to Islam to leave their husbands since divorce is banned by Egypt's Coptic Church.

The Baghdad church siege horrified Iraq's Christian community, hundreds of whom gathered for a memorial service in Baghdad. One of the officials read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the crowd.

"For years the violence hasn't stopped hitting this country, and Christians are becoming the target of these cruel terrorist attacks," the letter read.

While Christians were the target, Shiites bore the brunt of a string of 13 attacks that struck neighborhoods across the capital.

The death toll in that violence climbed to 91 people, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials. No breakdown of the new death toll was immediately available.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

The bombings hit civilians at restaurants and cafes where many Iraqis were gathered to enjoy the warm evening. The violence demonstrated the insurgents' ability to carry out coordinated attacks from one side of Baghdad to the other despite a network of police and army checkpoints and blast walls crisscrossing the capital.

Iraqi state TV aired footage of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visiting victims of the blasts in Baghdad's hospitals. The televised bedside calls to civilians injured in attacks were a first for al-Maliki since he took office in 2006 — the year the country broke down along sectarian lines, prompting tit-for-tat killings of Sunnis and Shiites and driving millions of Iraqis out of their homes and out of the country.

Al-Maliki has been struggling to keep his job since his Shia-dominated alliance was narrowly defeated by the Sunni-backed bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the March 7 parliamentary election.

Neither bloc won an outright majority, setting up a prolonged contentious fight for allies that has left the government stalemated and Iraq's nascent political process deadlocked.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomb ripped through crowds of shoppers and cafe-goers in the heart of Istanbul, injuring 32 people as a ceasefire by the separatist PKK came to an end.

The blast targeted riot police patrolling the busy Taksim Square in the centre of Turkey's economic capital, police chief Huseyin Capkin said.

"We think it was a suicide attack," he said, adding that the bomb had gone off before the bomber reached his target. "He tried to get into a police bus but didn't succeed," he said.

Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters 32 people had been injured in the blast, 17 civilians and 15 police officers.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned what he called a "terrorist" attack during a tour of majority-Kurd southeastern Turkey.

"We will not tolerate anybody attacking the peace, stability and security of Turkey," Erdogan said during a trip to the city of Mardin.

The United States condemned the attack and reiterated its support for the Turkish government.

"This is a shocking crime and the people of the United States stand in solidarity with our friends the people of Turkey," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

She was Washington hoped to see the perpetrators of this crime brought to swift justice and stood ready to offer its assistance and support to Ankara.

"The United States will continue to work with Turkey to combat violent extremism and to safeguard the security of peace-loving people everywhere," Clinton said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, and Interior Minister Besir Atalay said it was too early to say who was behind it.

But analysts quoted by television stations pointed to the likely involvement of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose unilateral ceasefire declared on August 13 was due to end.

The rebel movement and extreme left-wing groups have carried out bomb attacks in the past in Istanbul, home to more than 12 million inhabitants.

The PKK said on September 30 that it had decided to extend its truce by a month, meaning that it would conclude at the end of October.

Top PKK commander Murat Karayilan last week said the PKK would no longer target civilians and wanted to extend a unilateral truce indefinitely if the government demonstrated a commitment to dialogue.

"We are actually in favor of a permanent ceasefire... We are waiting. We have not decided yet," he told the Radikal newspaper.

Taksim Square, and the streets leading to it, attract tens of thousands of people a day and are patrolled by anti-riot police around the clock.

According to witnesses quoted by news channels, the powerful blast shook the area around 10:30 am (0830 GMT), blowing out windows in nearby offices and hotels.

Turkish television showed footage of police taking away the lifeless body of a man from the scene, as well as dazed and injured people receiving first aid.

Footage showed police and ambulances rushing to the scene.

Police immediately threw a security cordon around the area, and streets including the pedestrianized historic Istiklal were closed off, the CNN-Turk and NTV channels reported.

On June 22 a bomb exploded in a suburb of Istanbul as a bus full of soldiers was going past, killing five soldiers and the teenage daughter of one of them.

Responsibility for that blast was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an obscure radical group loyal to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, jailed for life in 1999.

The Turkish authorities say TAK is a front used by the PKK, especially when attacks claim civilian casualties.

The PKK has said TAK is a splinter group outside its control.

The Kurdish rebel group has called for the constitution to recognize the rights of some 15 million (out of a population of 73 million) Turkish Kurds, as well as grant autonomy to eastern and south eastern regions in Anatolia.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority south east in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed around 45,000 lives.