FedEx to scan every parcel at two Texas facilities after blast

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People evacuate as emergency vehicles stage near the site of another explosion, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP)
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Members of Austin Police Department block off part of Mission Oaks Boulevard following an explosion in Austin, Texas, U.S., in this March 19, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
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A law enforcement officer runs on Brodie Lane in Austin, Texas, moments after an explosion on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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FedEx to scan every parcel at two Texas facilities after blast

CHICAGO: FedEx Corp. will screen every package at the Texas facility where a parcel exploded on Tuesday, according to a FedEx manager, describing extraordinary steps the company is taking in response to a series of bombings in the state capital.
The package delivery company will also X-ray entire truckloads of parcels at its sorting facility outside Austin, and then divert them elsewhere for sorting and delivery, said the FedEx employee who was not authorized to speak on the record. The source does not work at the sorting facility but was briefed on the situation.
FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey said he had no immediate comment.
The blast at FedEx on Tuesday was one of five explosions in Texas in the past 18 days. A sixth explosion on Tuesday night did not appear related, authorities said. The five attacks have killed two people, injured others and left hundreds of federal and local investigators scrambling to find the perpetrator and a motive.
Package screening is not routine at the nation’s big delivery companies such as FedEx, United Parcel Service Inc. or the US Postal Service. The industry delivers a total of around 40 million parcels in the United States each day, industry experts said. Checking every package on a regular basis would virtually paralyze their operations.
FedEx will carry out the special screenings at the sorting facility in Schertz, Texas where the package exploded, injuring one worker, and at a second location in Austin, where another explosive device was found, the employee said. The second package was turned over to police.
“FedEx in conjunction with the authorities are field X-raying all the packages one at a time,” the employee said. “From then on, we will be doing bulk X-rays of entire trailers.”
Packages will likely be delayed by a day or two at the facility, and FedEx was re-routing all other packages to its hub in Houston to avoid further delays, he said.
FedEx has provided law enforcement with “extensive evidence from our advanced technology security systems designed to protect the safety of our teammates, our customers and the communities we serve,” Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith told analysts on Tuesday after the company reported quarterly financial results.
FedEx will provide authorities with the location where the package was picked up by the driver and the time, the employee said, providing authorities with a wealth of data.
Satish Jindel, a founder of the delivery company that became FedEx Ground and now serves as president of ShipMatrix, which tracks on-time shipments, said it was highly unlikely that the industry would move toward routine screening. Package bombs are rare, he said, making it unrealistic to check every package, every day, considering the enormous cost.
“They don’t, they can’t, and they shouldn’t, and it would be unreasonable and ignorant for this country and for people to expect it,” Jindel said. “It would shut the economy down.”
For now, the industry will likely rely on employees who are trained to flag suspicious packages, Jindel said.
UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said the world’s largest package delivery company has security measures in place and was cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation, but declined to comment further.
DHL Worldwide Express said it had “standard” security and screening procedures in place and that its security teams were monitoring the situation in Texas.
The US Postal Service uses technology, targeted screening and employee training to stop suspicious packages, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said.
The FedEx manager with knowledge of the incident said the blast appeared to have been set off by a mechanical arm that diverts packages along a conveyer belt. When the arm came out and hit the package, it exploded on the sorter just as it entered a chute, he said.
“The good thing is it went off when it was going down the chute,” he said. “The chute actually shielded anybody below from the blast.”
 


US builds drone base in Niger, crossroads of extremism fight

Updated 58 min 6 sec ago
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US builds drone base in Niger, crossroads of extremism fight

  • On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the US Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region
  • The $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in US history - it will cost $15 million annually to operate

AGADEZ: On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the US Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region.
Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. The base, a few miles outside Agadez and built at the request of Niger’s government, will eventually house fighter jets and MQ-9 drones transferred from the capital Niamey. The drones, with surveillance and added striking capabilities, will have a range enabling them to reach a number of West and North African countries.
Few knew of the American military’s presence in this desperately poor, remote West African country until October, when an ambush by Daesh group-linked extremists killed four US soldiers and five Nigeriens.
The $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in US history, according to Air Force officials. It will cost $15 million annually to operate.
Citing security reasons, no official will say how many drones will be housed at the base or whether more US personnel will be brought to the region. Already the US military presence here is the second largest in Africa behind the sole permanent US base on the continent, in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
The drones at the base are expected to target several different Al-Qaeda and Daesh group-affiliated fighters in countries throughout the Sahel, a sprawling region just south of the Sahara, including the area around Lake Chad, where the Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has spread.
As the US puts drones at the forefront of the fight against extremists, some worry that civilians will be mistaken for fighters.
“We are afraid of falling back into the same situation as in Afghanistan, with many mistakes made by American soldiers who did not always know the difference between a wedding ceremony and a training of terrorist groups,” said Amadou Roufai, a Nigerien administration official.
Civic leader Nouhou Mahamadou also expressed concerns.
“The presence of foreign bases in general and American in particular is a serious surrender of our sovereignty and a serious attack on the morale of the Nigerien military,” he said.
The number of US military personnel in Niger has risen over the past few years from 100 to 800, the second largest concentration in Africa after the 4,000 in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. About 500 personnel are working on the new air and drone base and the base camp is marked with an American and Nigerien flag.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are crucial in the fight against extremism, US Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho said.
“The location in Agadez will improve US Africa Command’s capability to facilitate intelligence-sharing that better supports Niger and other partner nations, such as Nigeria, Chad, Mali and other neighbors in the region and will improve our capability to respond to regional security issues,” Reho said.
The intelligence gathered by the drones can be used by Niger and other US partners for prosecuting extremists, said Commander Brad Harbaugh, who is in charge of the new base.
Some in Niger welcome the growing US military presence in the face of a growing extremist threat in the region.
“Northern Mali has become a no man’s land, southern Libya is an incubator for terrorists and northeastern Nigeria is fertile ground for Boko Haram’s activities ... Can Niger alone ensure its own security? I think not. No country in the world can today alone fight terrorism,” said Souleymane Abdourahmane, a restaurant promoter in the capital, Niamey.
Threats include Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Mali and Burkina Faso, Daesh group-affiliated fighters in Niger, Mali and Nigeria and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram. They take advantage of the vast region’s widespread poverty and countries’ often poorly equipped security forces.
Foreigners, including a German aid worker kidnapped this month in Niger, have been targeted as well.
The US military’s use of armed drones comes as its special forces pull back from the front lines of the fight. The focus is changing to advising and assisting local partners higher up the chain of command, said US Special Command Africa commander Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks.
Ibrahim Maiga, a Mali-based researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said more needs to be known about the US military presence in the region.
“The US military footprint in the Sahel is difficult to grasp, just as it is not easy to assess its effectiveness,” he said. “There isn’t nearly enough information in the public space on this presence.”
Mud homes line the barbed wire fence at the edge of the main airport in Agadez. Residents watch the US forces come and go with curiosity.
Shebu Issa, an assistant at a Qur’anic school, stood in one doorway as goats and children roamed the sandy roads.
“It’s no big deal to us, they come and they don’t bother us. We appreciate they want to help in the fight,” he said. “We live a hard life, and don’t make much money, so we hope maybe this will help us get more.”