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EU Nations Vow Joint ‘Emergency’ Action on Air-Mail Bomb Threat

European Union governments pledged to expand inspections of air cargo from outside the EU as part of a coordinated “emergency” crackdown after mail bombs originating in Yemen were intercepted on aircraft five weeks ago.

Transport ministers from the 27-nation EU vowed to tighten screening of foreign air cargo and mail, including packages that are in transit to destinations outside the bloc, while European regulators draft tougher common rules. The European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, intends in the coming weeks to propose stricter legislation.

“The EU needs to address the threat of cargo originating in third countries both on an emergency and a permanent basis,” according to a policy paper that the transport ministers endorsed at a meeting today in Brussels. “Additional measures are required.”

EU nations are seeking to forge a joint response to the late October plot in which two bombs were concealed in printer cartridges aboard flights that stopped in Germany, the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates. The packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago and U.S. authorities have said they suspect a master bomb-maker from al-Qaeda made the explosives.

The discovery of the bombs prompted Germany to ban Yemeni flights from landing at its airports and the U.K. to halt unaccompanied air freight from the Middle Eastern country. The plot has put the spotlight on the safety of goods that have traditionally received less EU anti-terrorism scrutiny.

Security Controls

Existing EU rules require security controls on air cargo and mail before they are loaded onto aircraft in member states. For goods put on planes abroad, the bloc has relied on the International Civil Aviation Organization’s principle that security measures be applied at the airport of departure.

“Historically, in particular transfer cargo and mail have been associated with a low degree of risk,” according to the EU policy paper. “This approach must be revised in the light of recent events.”

The EU needs to “accelerate” the adoption of measures based on a “harmonized risk assessment,” according to the paper. Such an approach aims to ensure a common response while avoiding security checks on all air freight in Europe.

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