August 10th, 2006 06:19 EST
Terror Arrests Puts Airports Around the World on Red Alert
United Kingdom police stated that they prevented a terrorist plan to blow up airliners heading towards the U.S. using explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. The threat comes five years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington D.C..
Authorities took 21 people into custody last night, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said today. The attacks targeted United Airlines, American Airlines and Continental Airlines planes, the Associated Press reported, referring to unknown U.S. counter-terrorism officials in Washington. Heathrow Airport was closed to most flights from Europe, and British Airways canceled all its flights Thursday between the airport and points in Britain, Europe and Libya.
"Had this plot been carried out, the loss of life to civilians would have been on an unprecedented scale", U.K. Home Secretary John Reid said at a press conference. "We are involved in a very long, wide and deep struggle against very evil people.''
Official said the plotters intended to simultaneously target nine planes bound for the United States, three planes every hour.
Authorities raised security to its highest level in Britain and banned carry-on luggage on all trans-Atlantic flights. Large crowds gathered at security points at London's Heathrow airport as airport officials searching for explosives banned virtually all forms of liquid.
The intense measures taken at Heathrow airport worked as a domino effect throughout the world. Washington raised its threat alert to its highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States. This comes among fears the conspiracy had not been completely disassembled.
Britain raised its terror alert to "critical", the highest category in a five-point scale, insinuating an attack is expected "imminently", according to the Home Office Web site. Prime Minister Tony Blair is "in constant contact'' with the situation in the U.K. and briefed U.S. President George W. Bush overnight, a spokeswoman said.
The U.S. raised the threat level for flights from the U.K., to "severe", or "red", the highest in a five-step scale, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement. The security level for other flights to or within the U.S. was raised to orange, or high, the second level.
U.S. intelligence officials expressed the plotters were planning to target flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California, all major summer tourist destinations.
"Currently, there is no indication, however, of plotting within the United States", Chertoff said. He went on to say that the operation was ''suggestive of an al-Qaeda plot.''
A U.K. parliamentary committee said in May that an unidentified number of terrorist attacks had been prevented in Britain since September 11th, including three following last year's suicide bombings on London's public transport system.
The Department of Transport said in a statement that travel documents, pocket-sized wallets, purses and items such as baby food, contact lenses and some medications, are allowed on planes, while handbags, cell-phones, laptops and media players must be checked in.
Airlines administration officials are advising customers to check in as normal and to, under these circumstances, expect long delays.
At London's Heathrow airport, traffic lanes were closed directly in front of terminals, and police officers with dogs patrolled the check-in area.
Lines in front of check-in desks extended to hundreds of people and fast-track security procedures for business and first-class passengers were canceled.
Airline staff gave passengers instructions on what items they must check in. The Associated Press stated that travelers were given clear plastic bags to place documents and other permitted items in. Passengers were also advised that all flights are subject to lengthy delays or cancellation. Self-service check-ins were canceled.
Today's arrests come after the return of an American Airlines Inc. flight to Boston from London on Aug. 7 to Heathrow Airport after takeoff due to an unnamed security issue.
Four passengers that were arrested were later released after being questioned.