Red alert at US airports for British flights


Homeland Security warning system for US-bound flights raised to highest level.

THE US yesterday issued the highest level terrorism alert for flights from Britain after the discovery of the London plot.

Intelligence officials also disclosed that three American airlines – United, American and Continental – were targeted in the planned attack which they said bore the hallmarks of the Al-Qaeda terror network.

Some of the flights were heading to Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Security was tightened across all airports, barring passengers from carrying liquids, including beverages, hair gels and lotions, aboard planes.

There were long queues as all passengers were hand-searched.

Addressing a news conference a few hours after Britain disclosed the plot to bomb several transatlantic flights mid-air and made 21 arrests, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a news conference here: ‘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.’

The Homeland Security warning system for US-bound flights from Britain has been raised to red – the first time that this has been invoked. Red alert stands for ‘severe risk of terrorist attacks’.

The threat level for all other commercial flights operating in or destined for the US would be raised to ‘high’, or orange, from ‘elevated’, or yellow.

Media reports here quoted US intelligence officials as saying that the plot involved sophisticated liquid explosives that were to have been carried on to several planes.

Battery triggers were possibly stored in alarm clocks, laptop computers or calculators.

Mr Chertoff made clear at a news conference that Al-Qaeda might have been involved given that it was a ‘well-planned and well-financed plot’.

‘While this operation was centred in Great Britain, it was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was international in scope,’ he said.

‘This operation is in some respects suggestive of an Al-Qaeda plot, but because the investigation is still under way, we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion. We’re going to wait until all the facts are in.’

There were no arrests in the United States connected to the plot.

But Mr Chertoff added that he now considered US air travel safe following the new precautions taken on both sides of the Atlantic.

President George W. Bush said the plot is a ‘stark reminder’ that the country remains ‘at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation’, five years after the Sept 11, 2001 suicide plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

In brief remarks upon arrival at a factory in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he was scheduled to give remarks on the economy, he also said: ‘This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11.’

But he added: ‘But obviously we’re still not completely safe.’

White House spokesman Tony Snow had earlier told reporters flying with Mr Bush to the midwestern state of Wisconsin that the President ‘has been kept fully briefed, especially as the actions by the British became more imminent’.

He also said the President had personally approved raising the terror alert on Wednesday, after speaking twice with British Prime Minister Tony Blair – a 47-minute tele-conference on Sunday and a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Blair issued a statement praising the cooperation between the two countries, which ‘underlines the threat we face and our determination to counter it’.

Meanwhile, Mr Snow said Americans shouldn’t be worried about taking flights.

‘It is safe to travel,’ he said. ‘There are going to be some inconveniences.’

Mr Snow said he did not know how long the heightened alert level would last.

‘This had the earmarks of an Al-Qaeda plot.’

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