Date: 2006-08-10 12:42:16
British Police Thwart Major Terror Plot Britain and the U.S. Raise Security Threat Levels By Fred Barbash and John Ward AndersonWashington Post Staff WritersThursday, August 10, 2006; 7:10 AM British authorities said today they had disrupted a “major terrorist plot” to blow up passenger flights between the United Kingdom and the United States, prompting a full-scale security clampdown at U.S. and British airports and a cascade of delays in trans-Atlantic flights. London’s Deputy Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson, said 21 people had been arrested in London and in Birmingham, England, after a months-long investigation into what he said was a plan for “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” Peter Clarke, chief of the London police department’s anti-terrorism branch, said the investigation reached a “critical point” last night, requiring immediate disruption of the plot, the arrests and the imposition of heightened security measures. U.S. officials raised the “threat level” for air transport to red , the highest alert. The Associated Press reported that the terrorists had targeted American Airlines, Continental Airlines and United Airlines, citing counterterrorism officials. Passengers at all airports in the United States were told to expect intensified searches, considerable delays and new restrictions on carry-on items. The Transportation Security Administration announced that passengers on all U.S. flights, domestic and international, would be banned from transporting any type of liquid or gel in their carry-on luggage . The ban applies to all types of beverages, shampoo, toothpaste, hair gels and other items of a similar consistency, the TSA announced. While elevating the threat level, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said officials had no indication that the plot included attacks based in the U.S. British authorities said the threat involved terrorists who aimed to smuggle explosive material aboard airplanes in hand baggage, including timers and detonators that could be assembled in flight. In July 2005, terrorists attacked London’s subway and bus system with bombs made of acetone and peroxide mixed in plastic containers. Those attacks claimed 52 lives and injured hundreds of others. British Home Secretary John Reid said the operation was aimed at bringing down “a number of aircraft” — reportedly at least ten — “through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life.” The plot, he said, “was a very significant one indeed.” American Airlines canceled six Thursday flights between the United States and London to accommodate the delays at Heathrow airport, spokesman John Hotard told wire services. American held three London-bound morning flights, one each from Chicago, Boston and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. To balance those cancellations, the airline also dropped three afternoon or evening flights scheduled to travel from London to those U.S. cities, Hotard said. In Northwest Washington, a tight cordon of police security was thrown up around the British Embassy compound on Massachusetts Avenue. Officials at Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, appeared on television and asked people not to travel to the airport at all if possible. As they spoke, crowds of travelers were already clogging the corridors and lounges at Heathrow and at other British terminals. “We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives on to airplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in flight,” said Scotland Yard’s Stephenson. “We also believe that the intended targets were flights from the United Kingdom to the United States of America. British Police Thwart Major Terror Plot Clarke, Britain’s anti-terrorism chief, said at a news conference this morning that “a large number of people” had been under surveillance, with police monitoring “spending, travel and communications.” “The alleged plot has global dimensions,” Clarke said. “The investigation reached a critical point last night when the decision was made to take urgent action in order to disrupt what was being planned. As always in these investigations, the safety of the public” was the paramount concern, he added. In Washington, Chertoff said in a statement that “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.” “To defend further against any remaining threat from this plot, we will also raise the threat level to High, or Orange, for all commercial aviation operating in or destined for the United States,” Chertoff said. “Consistent with these higher threat levels, the Transportation Security Administration is coordinating with federal partners, airport authorities and commercial airlines on expanding the intensity of existing security requirements.” He added, however, that “currently, there is no indication . . . of plotting within the United States.” The TSA said passengers who need to bring medicine and baby formula on board planes would need to present those items for inspection at checkpoints. In Britain, passengers were being asked to taste these liquids in the presence of security guards. Anderson reported from Paris. Staff writers Debbi Wilgoren and Spencer S. Hsu in Washington contributed to this story avast! Antivirus: Outbound message clean. Virus Database (VPS): 0632-1, 09/08/2006Tested on: 8/10/2006 12:30:01avast! – copyright (c) 2000-2006 ALWIL Software.