Newest Airport Regulations Bring Nnew 'Security', Delays
By DANICA KIRKA, Associated Press Writer
British authorities said Thursday they thwarted a terrorist plot to
simultaneously blow up several aircraft heading to the U.S. using
explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. Security was raised to its
highest level in Britain, and carry-on luggage was banned on all
flights. Huge crowds backed up at London's Heathrow airport as
officials searching for explosives barred nearly every form of liquid
outside of baby formula.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the terrorists
planned to use liquid explosives disguised as beverages and other
common products and set them off with detonators disguised as
The extreme measures at a major international aviation hub sent
ripples throughout the world. Heathrow was closed to most flights from
Europe, and British Airways canceled all its flights between the
airport and points in Britain, Europe and Libya. Numerous flights from
U.S. cities to Britain were canceled.
Washington raised its threat alert to its highest level for commercial
flights from Britain to the United States amid fears the plot had not
been completely crushed. The alert for all flights coming or going
from the United States was also raised slightly.
Two U.S. counterterrorism officials said the terrorists had targeted
United, American and Continental airlines. They spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Police arrested 21 people, saying they were confident they captured
the main suspects in what U.S. officials said was a plot in its final
phases that had all the earmarks of an al-Qaida operation.
A U.S. intelligence official said the plotters had hoped to target
flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California.
British Home Secretary John Reid said the 21 people were arrested in
London, its suburbs and Birmingham following a lengthy investigation,
including the alleged "main players" in the plot. Searches continued
in a number of locations.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said police were evacuating homes in
High Wycombe, a town 30 miles northwest of London, near one of the
houses being searched. Police refused to confirm the report or to
discuss any details of the searches.
President Bush said during a visit to Green Bay, Wis., that the foiled
plot was a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic
fascists." Despite increased security since Sept. 11, he warned, "It
is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of
While British officials declined to publicly identify the 21 suspects,
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that they
"appear to be of Pakistani origin." He did not give a source for his
description, but said French officials had been in close contact with
The suspects were "homegrown," though it was not immediately clear if
they were all British citizens, said a British police official who
spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
case. Police were working closely with the South Asian community, the
The suicide bombing assault on London subway trains and a bus on July
7, 2005, was carried out by Muslim extremists who grew up in Britain.
The police official said the plotters intended to simultaneously
target multiple planes bound for the United States.
"We think this was an extraordinarily serious plot and we are
confident that we've prevented an attempt to commit mass murder on an
unimaginable scale," Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, vacationing in the Caribbean, briefed Bush
on the situation overnight. Blair issued a statement praising the
cooperation between the two countries, saying it "underlines the
threat we face and our determination to counter it."
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush also had been briefed by his
aides while at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he has been on
"We do believe the plot involved flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and
was a direct threat to the United States," Snow said.
While Snow called the plot a serious threat, he assured Americans that
"it is safe to travel."
Chertoff, the homeland security chief, said the plot had the hallmarks
of an operation planned by al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind the
Sept. 11 attack on the United States.
"It was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was
international in scope. It was in some respects suggestive of an
al-Qaida plot," Chertoff said, but he cautioned it was too early in
the investigation to reach any conclusions.
It is the first time the red alert level in the Homeland Security
warning system has been invoked, although there have been brief
periods in the past when the orange level was applied. Homeland
Security defines the red alert as designating a "severe risk of
"We believe that these arrests (in London) have significantly
disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been
entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted," Chertoff said.
He added, however, there was no indication of current plots within the
Chertoff said the plotters were in the final stages of planning. "We
were really getting quite close to the execution phase," he said,
adding that it was unclear if the plot was linked to the upcoming
fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said authorities believe
dozens of people -- possibly as many as 50 -- were involved in the
plot. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the situation.
The plan involved airline passengers hiding masked explosives in
carry-on luggage, the official said. "They were not yet sitting on an
airplane," but were very close to traveling, the official said,
calling the plot "the real deal."
Passengers in Britain faced delays as tighter security was hastily
enforced at the country's airports and additional measures were put in
place for all flights. Laptop computers, mobile phones, iPods, and
remote controls were among the items banned from being carried on
Liquids, such as hair care products, were also barred on flights in both
Britain and the U.S. Liquid medicines and baby formula are excluded,
but must go through manual examination before boardng.
In the mid-1990s, officials foiled a plan by terrorist mastermind
Ramzi Youssef to blow up 12 Western jetliners simultaneously over the
Pacific. The alleged plot involved improvised bombs using liquid
hidden in contact lens solution containers.
Huge lines formed at ticket counters and behind security barriers at
Heathrow and other airports in Britain.
Ed Lappen, 55, a businessman from Boston, who was traveling with his
wife and daughter to Russia, found himself unable to travel further.
"We're safe, we're OK," he said at Heathrow. "Now my daughter is going
to get a shopping trip in London."
Hannah Pillinger, 24, seemed less concerned by the
announcement. "Eight hours without an iPod, that's the most
inconvenient thing," she said, waiting at the Manchester airport.
Most European carriers canceled flights to Heathrow because of the
massive delays created after authorities enforced strict new
regulations banning most hand baggage.
Tony Douglas, Heathrow's managing director, said the airport hoped to
resume normal operations Friday, but passengers would still face
delays and a ban on cabin baggage "for the foreseeable future."
Security also was stepped up at train stations serving airports across
Britain, said British Transport Police spokeswoman Jan O'Neill. At
London's Victoria Station, police patrolled platforms with
bomb-sniffing dogs as passengers boarded trains carrying clear plastic
Margaret Gavin, 67, waiting to board a train, said she wasn't scared.
"Why should I change my life because some idiots want to blow
something up?" she said.
Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington and Matt Moore
in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Some of us gave up any form of air
travel years ago, when the tough restrictions first were implemented.
My health simply will not allow it. PAT]