Thu Aug 10, 2006 23:45


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Airport security tightened in wake of terror arrests
San Jose Mercury News - 2 hours ago
By William Douglas and Matthew Schofield. Passengers wait in line at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. The US government raised its threat warning to the highest level for commercial flights ...
Airline Security Successfully Copes With Terrorist Threat ABC News
British: Thwarted plot involved 10 jets Houston Chronicle
Detroit Free Press - Boston Channel.com - The Herald - Dailyrecord.com -
all 2,239 related

24 arrested in plane bomb plot
Thu Aug 10, 2006 10:47 PM BS

By Michael Holden and Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - Police foiled a plot by would-be suicide bombers to simultaneously blow up several planes flying to the United States, arresting 24 people days before they could attack, officials said on Thursday.

Disclosure of the alleged plan to smuggle bombs on aircraft disguised as drinks immediately brought drastic new security measures and chaos at airports on both sides of the Atlantic.

Security sources said they had been watching the suspects for eight months, and London police's Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson described their goal as "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

"The plan was to have multiple suicide bombings on aircraft, essentially at the same time," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

A U.S. intelligence official said the planned bombings were just days away, with a dry run planned first: "They were a couple of days from a test, and a few days from doing it."

U.S. President George W. Bush said the plan was a stark reminder his country was at "war with Islamic fascists".

Interior Minister John Reid said police were confident all the main figures had been caught, but the U.S. TV network ABC quoted unnamed American officials as saying five suspects were still on the loose. Police declined to comment.

Pakistan said its intelligence agencies helped thwart the plot and had arrested an unspecified number of people.

The suspected plot raised the spectre of a strike to rival the scale of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States ahead of their fifth anniversary, and came 13 months after four British suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on London transport.

A U.S. intelligence official said the plotters planned to target about 10 planes, though not cities on the ground.

Chertoff said the plot was in the final stages of planning.

"The terrorists planned to carry the components of the bombs, including liquid explosive ingredients and detonating devices, disguised as beverages, electronic devices or other common objects," he said.

He said he saw signs of al Qaeda's methods in the plot, but it was too early to draw conclusions on whether the global militant group behind the September 11 attacks was involved.

Police gave no details of the people they had arrested, but the U.S. Homeland Security department said all were British citizens. Raids were carried out in London, southeast England and Birmingham.

Pakistan gave no details about the people arrested there, but a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said her country had played a "very important role in uncovering and breaking this international terrorist network".


Both Britain and the United States imposed tough new security measures on flights, causing chaos and delays.

Departure halls were jammed and scores of flights to and from London were cancelled. Travellers with babies were forced to taste their baby food before boarding.

In Britain, all hand luggage was banned, and passengers were allowed on board only with a single clear plastic bag with items from an official list. In the United States, authorities banned liquids and gels from carry-on bags.

Airport authorities told people to stay home if they could.

Exasperated passengers looked on the bright side.

"We are just happy to be alive," said Blair Ahearn, 47, a passenger from near Chicago in Heathrow airport, the world's busiest for international flights. "It could be much worse than a crowded airport and long lines."

Chertoff said U.S. carriers were targeted. A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Continental Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines flights were the focus.

The United States raised the threat level for British-U.S. passenger flights to "red", its top level, for the first time. Britain raised its threat level to "critical", its highest rating, which means "an attack is expected imminently".

Shares in European airlines fell. British Airways dropped more than 5 percent. The pound fell against the dollar and the euro. Oil fell to below $76 a barrel on fears the security threat might slow growth worldwide and cut oil demand.

Tony Blair's office said the prime minister, on holiday in the Caribbean, had briefed U.S. President George W. Bush.

Last month, al Qaeda called on Muslims to fight those who backed Israel's attacks on Lebanon and warned of attacks unless U.S. and British forces pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda hijacked passenger aircraft in September 2001 to destroy the World Trade Centre in New York. Briton Richard Reid was arrested in December 2001 for trying to blow up a plane headed to the United States using a bomb in his shoe.

The British Airports Authority asked all European carriers to suspend flights to Heathrow. British Airways cancelled short-haul flights to and from the airport, which processes 180,000 passengers a day in the peak summer period.

(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin, Adrian Croft, Peter Griffiths, Catherine Hornby, Gideon Long, Jeremy Lovell, Jason Neely, Michael Smith in London, Todd Eastham and Deborah Charles in Washington and Simon Cameron-Moore in Islamabad)

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