Germany ups airport security after British terror scare
10 August 2006, FRANKFURT/LONDON - Germany tightened airport security on Thursday after a bomb plot scare led to travel chaos at British airports and the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Britain's Heathrow was closed to landings, causing massive disruptions and delays which had a knock-on effect at other airports across the continent. Among the airlines affected was the German flag carrier Lufthansa, which cancelled 26 flights to and from London's main airport, affecting some 3,500 passengers. Three of
10 August 2006
FRANKFURT/LONDON - Germany tightened airport security on Thursday after a bomb plot scare led to travel chaos at British airports and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Britain's Heathrow was closed to landings, causing massive disruptions and delays which had a knock-on effect at other airports across the continent.
Among the airlines affected was the German flag carrier Lufthansa, which cancelled 26 flights to and from London's main airport, affecting some 3,500 passengers.
Three of its flights were turned back while in the air, and landed at Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf airports in Germany from where they had earlier departed.
Air France, Spain's Iberia and another German carrier, Air Berlin, also cancelled flights.
Germany's Interior Ministry said it was in close contact with British authorities, while airlines advised people to turn up early for flights because of the stepped up security controls.
Police in Britain said early Thursday that they had foiled a plot by terrorists to blow up trans-Atlantic flights in midair by detonating liquid chemical devices.
The planned suicide attacks on US-bound aircraft leaving from Britain had a global dimension and would have caused a "loss of life on an unprecedented scale," the British government said.
Home Secretary John Reid said Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad had foiled a plot meant to "bring down a number of aircraft through mid-air explosions."
Reports from the US said that three US airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Continental Airlines were targeted.
Scotland Yard said the "number, destinations and timings" of the flights targeted remained under investigation.
Earlier reports said that "up to ten" aircraft could have been affected.
A "critical point" in the complex and ongoing investigations had been reached late Wednesday, forcing police to act, Scotland Yard's anti-terror chief Peter Clarke said in London.
The plan was to carry explosives "constructed in Britain" on to aircraft in hand luggage.
Police said chemical liquids were planned to be used in the "near-simultaneous" attacks.
The alleged conspiracy had been discussed by US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair during an overnight phone call and during their recent meeting in Washington.
Twenty-one people, most of them believed to be British-born Muslims, had been arrested in what Scotland Yard described as an "ongoing operation."
Reid said he believed the "main players" behind the alleged plot were in custody following the arrests in London and the central British city of Birmingham.
Earlier, Scotland Yard's deputy commissioner, Paul Stephenson, said the plotters had planned to "commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
Reid, when asked whether the British government now considered itself to be "at war with Islam," said: "We are involved in a long, wide and deep struggle against very evil people.
"This is not a case of one civilization against the other, of one religion against the other, but of terrorists who want to use evil methods. This threat is common to us all," he warned.
Earlier Thursday, Reid announced that Britain had been placed on "critical alert", the highest-ever security level which signified that a terrorist attack was "imminent."
The dramatic news from Britain brought delays in air traffic and fight cancellations around the world.
British Airways (BA) cancelled 200 domestic and European flights from major London airports.
Israel's El Al airlines and Air France, were among airlines stopping flights to Britain.
Birmingham airport was temporarily closed, as some 400,000 travellers around Britain were affected by the terror alert.
At major airports in London and around Britain, an immediate ban on hand luggage, except for essential items, was imposed.
All liquid substances, including baby milk, contact lens solution and medication, were being tested by security officers.
Passports and personal belongings had to be carried on board in see-through plastic bags handed out by airport staff.
Airport operator BAA urged would-be passengers to refrain from travelling to Heathrow "unless their journey was absolutely necessary."
Security experts said the unprecedented security measures indicated that the "threat is ongoing."
The United States Thursday raised its overall terror threat level to its second-highest class.
The US raised to "orange" the threat level for all flights and to "red" - the highest possible level - for flights coming in from Britain, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.
Chertoff said that while the US believed British authorities had "significantly disrupted" the planned attack, the US could not be certain that the threat "has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted," in the statement quoted by US media.
No liquids would be allowed on aircraft as part of extra security measures on flights into and within the US, Chertoff said.
The increased threat levels, which meant that an attack was "imminent," indicated that police were still looking for "something or someone," a security expert said.
The government crisis committee, Cobra, which comprises key ministers and the chiefs of the intelligence agencies, had met three times in the last 24 hours, it emerged.
"We just don't know whether this is the start of something bigger," one security expert said.
DPA with Expatica
Subject: German news, terrorism