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Police in Britain claim to have uncovered a terrorist plane plot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wikinews.org   

The Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch and security service in London have claimed today that a terrorist plot to detonate bombs on as many as ten planes travelling mid-air from the United Kingdom to the United States has been thwarted.

The bombs were to be smuggled onboard in passengers' hand luggage. They could have been the biggest terrorist attacks since 9/11, government officials have said. Information gathered after recent arrests in Pakistan convinced British investigators they had to act urgently to stop the plot.

The counter-terrorism operation took several months to complete. Scotland Yard say twenty-four people are in custody, and they were arrested in London, Birmingham and the Thames Valley. A senior U.S. intelligence official suggests that those arrested are British citizens, and some have links with Pakistan. At a press conference this afternoon, Home Secretary John Reid said the police believe the "main players" are accounted for.

 

Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said this morning: "We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder. We believe that the terrorists' aim was to smuggle explosives on to aeroplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in flight. We also believe that the intended targets were flights from the United Kingdom to the United States of America. I can confirm that a significant number of people are currently in custody and the operation is ongoing." "What makes it frightening is the sophistication to turn relatively common materials into a dangerous" bomb, a U.S. intelligence official told. Chertoff said it was unclear if all suspects were in custody. U.S. and British officials said some suspects could still be on the loose and their investigations were continuing.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is currently holidaying in the Caribbean, paid tribute to the security services and the police. "I thank them for the great job they are doing in protecting our country. There has been an enormous amount of co-operation with the US authorities which has been of great value and underlines the threat we face and our determination to counter it," he said in a statement.

It is believed that terrorists planned to detonate explosives on three US airlines. A US-administration official said the plot targeted Continental Airlines, United, British Airways and American Airlines flights to New York, Washington and California.

The White House has said the plot had been a direct threat to the US, and security officials there say aspects of the plan were suggestive of al-Qaeda. Terror analyst Peter Bergen said two factors pointed to the influence of al Qaeda. He said Al Qaeda is "obsessed" with commercial aviation, and he added that the timing of the plot was "very interesting." "It's not clear when this was going to be implemented ... but we are coming up on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. They do want to make a big statement," he said.

Michael Chertoff, US Director of Homeland Security, said the plan was reminiscent of a plot by 9/11 coordinator Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who in 1995 had envisioned detonating bombs on 11 airlines possibly traveling over the Pacific Ocean. He also said that the plotters were "getting close to the execution phase.

The US is also sending out more air marshals on flights between the UK and the US. President Bush said the arrests are a "stark reminder" that the U.S. is "at war with Islamic fascists."

 

Flights disrupted

MI5, the British internal security service, has raised the threat level to critical, meaning "an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK".

As a result, increased security at all British airports has been implemented, leading to delays in departing flights.

Significant disruptions include:

  • At Heathrow Airport, incoming short-haul flights have resumed. However, long-haul services are still delayed and numerous outbound flights have been cancelled.
  • At Gatwick Airport all EasyJet flights have been cancelled
  • All flights from Brussels Airport to the UK have been cancelled.

Security restrictions

All airlines departing from UK airports have told their passengers that they are not permitted to carry any hand baggage on board any aircraft departing from any airport in the UK.

Only the following items are permitted in the cabin, and must be carried in transparent bags:

  • Wallets and purses, plus their contents.
  • Travel documents, including passports and travel tickets.
  • Prescription medicines, but not in liquid form, unless they can be verified as authentic.
  • Essential medical items, such as a diabetic kit.
  • Glasses and sunglasses, but not in their cases.
  • Contact lens holders, but with no bottles of solution.
  • Baby food and milk, but contents must be tasted by accompanying passenger.
  • Sanitary items for babies.
  • Female sanitary items, unboxed.
  • Handkerchiefs and tissues, unboxed.
  • Keys, but with no electric key fobs.

No fluids at all are allowed onboard. "We hope that these measures, which are being kept under review by the government, will need to be in place for a limited period only," said a statement issued by the Department for Transport.

The United States Department of Homeland Security said in an email: "The U.S. threat level is raised to Severe, or Red, for all commercial flights flying from the United Kingdom to the U.S. The U.S. threat level is raised to High, or Orange for all commercial aviation operating in the U.S., including international flights. Flights from the U.S. to the U.K. are also Orange. PROHIBITED ITEMS CHANGE: All liquids and gels are now prohibited at the screening checkpoints. For more information please visit www.tsa.gov." Increased security means airline passengers around the country should show up at least two hours early for all flights, an official with the Transportation Security Administration told.

The nation's overall terror threat level has not been altered. August 10 2006 was the first time the Department of Homeland Security has raised the threat level for a specific group of flights. British Airways canceled all short haul flights in or out of Heathrow Airport for August 10 2006, and delays were stacking flights up at airports across Europe.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ordered the National Guard to Boston's Logan Airport, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the National Guard to airports in his state.

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 11 August 2006 )
 
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