Local ADL head discusses security after foiled bomb plot

Karen Aroesty


Over the weekend, the Jewish community was shocked to learn of the alleged plot by a Yemen-based branch of Al-Qaeda to send explosive devices in packages to synagogue-affiliated addresses in Chicago.  The devices, authorities believe, may have been intended to explode in flight to bring down cargo or passenger planes.  

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Missouri and southern Illinois, in concert with her national and regional ADL colleagues, has worked on this case non-stop even before much of it became public. The Light reached Aroesty for an interview.


What are the main lessons and points we have learned so far from this alleged terror plot out of Yemen?

Basically, given the nature of intelligence gathered and actions taken already, it seems that the devices were intended to blow up planes in mid-air rather than reach a specific destination. If you add the “Jewish” destination, however, as a terrorist organization you are likely to more successfully stir things up and get even greater attention (which is part of the destabilizing psychological intent of terrorist activity).

Yemen has already arrested and released an alleged suspect whose name was used as the “sender” of  the packages; she claims her identity was stolen.  NPR reported that Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula was formed after a group of terrorists escaped from a “maximum security” prison in Yemen.   How much can we trust Yemeni “authorities” in these cases? Has Yemen become a new “safe haven” for Al Qaeda?

It is hard to know from my end about the nature of international cooperation and intelligence gathering efforts-clearly, that is the most effective form of prevention-and perhaps the United States has been very successful in developing new and re-energized relationships with those who have the capacity and resources (Yemen and Saudi Arabia) to be most helpful. Clearly, in this case, the Saudis were very important to the effort.

It appears to date that the plot was foiled with the help of Saudi tipoffs to American intelligence officials.  Can it be said this time that indeed “the system worked” or is  this just a wake-up call that Al Qaeda is alive and well and determined to continue to attack the West in general and Jews in particular?

I think this is no “wake up call.” Any number of expert commentators will assert that religious extremism is the most dangerous threat to the U.S. and democratic society in general. In the United States, we have the luxury of paying less attention than we should to levels of terrorist activity around the world. Terrorism is a part of our world now. We have to accept that.

Apparently the devices could not be detected by screening or trained sniffing dogs. Is the security in place sufficiently thorough to deal with threats of this kind? 

I think security is in place, and who knows what chaos was averted. But each time a new challenge occurs, the structure gets that much better responsively. If there is a gap in the nature of cargo and package review, then I expect that the gap will be closed as appropriate. It may have been that, with the lack of passengers, the cargo/shipping industry did not get the attention it will now receive.