- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Laptop computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment will undergo additional scrutiny at airports after similar items, which had been modified for weapons, were found in an al Qaeda safe house.

Officials said they expect some additional delays at security checkpoints and suggested that travelers pack such equipment in checked baggage to reduce waits at X-ray machines.

The Homeland Security Department issued warnings yesterday that terrorists could hide bomb-making material in remote or keyless lock systems, camera flash attachments, multiband radios and dual-speaker radios.

“From time to time we get specific information, and we found and discovered that there have been efforts to use electronic devices to conceal explosive devices,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.

Intelligence reports say al Qaeda is attempting to modify these common traveler items into improvised explosive devices after a recent raid on an undisclosed residence found cameras containing explosives and a detonator, and a flash attachment modified into a stun gun.

“It is also possible that these weapons could be designed for use against government buildings, and/or public venues having controlled access, and security screening checkpoints,” stated the memo to security managers, screeners and law enforcement officials.

“This is one of those examples, ladies and gentlemen, when we get specific information that is actionable,” Mr. Ridge said at a press conference. “If everybody cooperates, I’m not sure there will be much of a change in how we go about securing the airports.”

The alert described most portable electronic equipment as ideal for concealing improvised devices and able to mask the bomb’s components during X-ray inspection.

“Depending on location, placement and configuration of the device, the amount of explosives that could be contained within even the smallest camera could cause collateral damage,” the warning said.

“We don’t have specific ideas these are to be used in specific plots, but we believe al Qaeda does possess these modified electronic devices,” one U.S. intelligence official said.

The official said stuffed animals that could be used to hide weapons have been located in safe houses.

A 10-year-old boy was stopped at an Orlando International Airport checkpoint last month after an X-ray showed that his teddy bear was stuffed with a .22-caliber gun. The parents said the toy was given to their son as a gift by another child staying at their hotel. The family was released after questioning by the FBI.

Without additional training for the federal screeners to detect bomb-making materials that can be reassembled on a plane, additional screening is useless, said Charles Slepian, chief executive officer of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, a think tank on security issues.

“If they are going to use the same people, they might as well have teddy bears doing the screening,” Mr. Slepian said.

The announcement of additional screening comes on the heels of other security measures after airlines were warned last week that terrorists were planning suicide hijackings this summer.

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