“An al-Qa’ida plot to hijack several passenger jets and simultaneously crash them into targets in Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles has been uncovered by security services, prompting warnings that air travellers face international flight cancellations for ‘several years’.” This from The Australian, with thanks to Nicolei.
“The prime target for a second September 11-style attack is the US capital but terrorists also have their sights on nuclear power stations on the US east coast and a crucial oil terminal in Alaska, London’s The Sunday Times reported yesterday.
“As almost a dozen flights from around the world into the US were cancelled and the Bush administration demanded armed sky marshals be placed on all airlines, other reports claimed two al-Qa’ida members were at large in Britain and planned to detonate a shoe bomb or similar device in an aircraft toilet.
“Briton Richard Reid in December 2001 tried to ignite an explosive device hidden in his shoe during a flight from Paris to Miami. He was overpowered and later jailed for life.
“Terrorism fears rose at the weekend when a chartered Egyptian Boeing 737 full of French tourists crashed into the Red Sea soon after takeoff, killing all 148 on board. However, French and Egyptian officials quickly ruled out terrorism, saying the crash was caused by a technical failure.
“An intelligence source quoted by The Sunday Times said an informant tipped off authorities about the latest al-Qa’ida plot the weekend before Christmas. He claimed Islamic extremists intended to hijack flights operated by British Airways, Air France and AeroMexico. The source also named specific routes and flight numbers, including BA223 from Heathrow to Washington, as part of the plot.
“Detailed security checks were conducted on all US-bound flights by the three carriers, with all passenger lists cross-checked against an FBI watch-list of known terrorist suspects.
“As a result, 10 US-bound flights were grounded: two of the BA223 flights, two AeroMexico flights from Mexico City to LA and six Air France flights from Paris to LA. At least three other flights were escorted into US airports by F-16 fighter jets.
“BA also grounded two flights to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, due to fly on New Year’s Eve and Saturday afternoon. It is understood these cancellations related to separate intelligence.
“Yesterday’s BA flight 223 to Washington was allowed to leave – after a three-hour delay for security checks – and landed without incident. Officials at Dulles airport in Washington said ‘everything is back to normal’.
“However, there was a separate security scare in the US capital yesterday when local police reported a ‘a possible hazardous substance’ in the Capitol building. It was evacuated but the incident proved to be a false alarm.
“British Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said yesterday British security services had information supporting US intelligence on a risk to the cancelled BA flights.
“He said a specific threat led to the grounding of the flights and more cancellations might be needed. Asked whether British authorities had information about specific threats, he said: ‘Yes we do.’
“‘The threat that we now face is likely to endure for many years,’ he added.
“Despite the security concerns, BA reportedly has refused a US request to place armed sky marshals on its flights, saying it preferred to cancel them rather than do so.”