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Attack shuts Scottish airport
GLASGOW, Scotland — A flaming Jeep Cherokee rammed into Glasgow Airport yesterday, shattering glass doors just yards from passengers lined up at the check-in counters. Police said the attack could be linked to two car bombs found in London the day before.
Britain raised its terror alert to “critical” — the highest possible level — and the Bush administration announced plans to increase security at airports and on mass transit. President Bush is keeping informed of the situation, the White House said.
One of the men in the car was in critical condition with severe burns at a hospital, while the other was in police custody, said Scottish Police Chief Constable Willie Rae. He said a “suspect device” was found on the suspect at the hospital, and it was taken to a safe location, where it was being investigated.
Chief Constable Rae would not say whether the device was a suicide belt. British security officials said evidence suggests the Glasgow attack was an attempted suicide mission.
“I can confirm that we believe the incident at Glasgow Airport is linked to the events in London [Friday],” Chief Constable Rae said. “There are clearly similarities, and we can confirm that this is being treated as a terrorist incident.”
Police foiled the plot Friday after two cars were found in central London packed with explosives — one outside a nightclub near Piccadilly Circus and another parked nearby.
A British government security official said the methods used in the airport attack and Friday’s thwarted plots were similar, with all three vehicles carrying large quantities of flammable liquid.
The new terror threat presents Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot who took office Wednesday, with an enormous challenge and occurs at a time of already heightened vigilance one week before the anniversary of the July 7 London transit attacks, which killed 52 persons.
“I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong,” Mr. Brown said yesterday in a televised statement.
The green Jeep barreled toward Glasgow’s main airport terminal shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the glass doors, witnesses said.
Police subdued the driver and a passenger, both described by witnesses as South Asian — a term referring to people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region — and arrested them and took one to the hospital. Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in flames and spoke “gibberish” as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.
Chief Constable Rae said a bystander was taken to the hospital with a leg injury.
“The car came speeding past,” said Scott Leeson, a witness. “Then the driver swerved the car around so he could ram straight into the door. He must have been trying to smash straight through.”
Passengers fled running and screaming from the busy terminal, Margaret Hughes told the British Broadcasting Corp. “There was black smoke gushing out where the car had obviously been driven into the airport,” she said.
The airport was evacuated and all flights suspended. Flames and smoke rose from the Jeep outside the main entrance. Police said Liverpool Airport and roads around Edinburgh, Scotland, were also closed.
Lynsey McBean from Erskine, Scotland, who was at the terminal, said one of the men took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured a liquid under the car. “He then set light to it.” She said the Jeep struck the front door of the airport but got jammed.
The incident carried reminders of a foiled plot in December 1999 to attack Los Angeles International Airport, when customs agents stopped an Algerian-born man in a car packed with explosives. He was sentenced to 22 years, and prosecutors said he was intent on bombing the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium.
Yesterday’s apparent attack left passengers shaken and stranded on the first day of summer vacation for Glasgow schools. At the time of the crash, the airport was bustling with families heading out on vacation.
Meanwhile in London, police were gathering evidence from closed-circuit television footage, as forensics specialists searched for clues into the foiled bombings. The two Mercedes were loaded with gasoline, gas canisters and nails in one of the capital’s busiest areas on a night when Londoners like to go out and party.
The vehicles were found abandoned in the early hours of Friday in what police think was an attempt to kill scores or even hundreds of people. Detectives said they were keeping an open mind about the perpetrators’ identities, but terrorism analysts said the signs pointed to a cell linked to or inspired by al Qaeda.
One car was abandoned outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket in the heart of London’s entertainment district. The other had been towed after being parked illegally on nearby Cockspur Street and was discovered in an impound lot about a mile away in Park Lane, near Hyde Park.
One former top British security official said she had no doubt the London and Glasgow incidents were connected.
“One has to conclude … these are linked,” Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Britain’s joint intelligence committee, told Sky News television. “This is a very young government, and we may yet see further attacks. … We are seeing a pattern of attack in the early days of a new government.”
Mr. Brown came to office pledging to win back the support of voters disenchanted over the Iraq war. But he backed his predecessor Tony Blair’s decision to send troops to Iraq in 2003 and has shown support for greater anti-terror measures that have angered Britain’s estimated 1.8 million Muslims.
By Tammy Bruce
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