- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

From combined dispatches
Leaders of the Senate intelligence committee yesterday urged the Bush administration to move immediately to protect U.S. airliners from the threat of attacks by terrorists from shoulder-fired missiles.
Sen. Bob Graham, the top Democrat on the Senate panel, said efforts to protect American planes from attacks similar to the one last week on an Israeli airliner carrying 261 persons required no authorization from Congress.
"That should be something initiated immediately by the newly established transportation security agency within the Department of Transportation to respond to this or any other form of attack against commercial aviation or other forms of transportation in the United States," Mr. Graham said on the "Fox News Sunday" program.
Mr. Graham, Florida Democrat, was joined by Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the panel, who warned that American aircraft were especially vulnerable.
"Let's be honest about it. There are thousands of these surface-to-air missiles around the world," Mr. Shelby said.
"You can buy them, and you can transport them. Sooner or later, that's going to be one of the methods for the terrorists to hit," Mr. Shelby said.
Neither lawmaker went into details on how to protect passenger jets.
But one Israeli strategy analyst said yesterday that the Boeing 757 jet that was targeted by terrorists as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, on Thursday may have been saved by anti-missile technology installed on the plane.
Two missiles missed the target, and the plane continued on to Tel Aviv.
Hirsh Goodman, a researcher for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said the U.S.-based magazine Aviation Week reported 10 years ago that all El Al planes were equipped with anti-missile technology in response to a botched attack on one of its planes in the mid-1970s. El Al is Israel's national airline.
"I can't guarantee the Akria plane was equipped with that technology, but I don't believe in miracles," Mr. Goodman told the Agence France-Press news service.
Israel's air force commander, Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz, confirmed that several commercial planes in Israel have been equipped with anti-missile protection.
Former Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israeli television that Israel has approached Boeing and Airbus about installing anti-missile systems made for military planes on commercial jets.
"We expect they will allow us to install it together, where needed," Mr. Sneh said.
A Boeing spokesman had no immediate comment.
One system used in military planes detects the approach of heat-seeking missiles and drops flares mounted on the wings in response.
Such a system reportedly would add nearly $3 million to the cost of a plane.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Shelby also said it appeared that al Qaeda had a hand in Thursday's simultaneous attacks in Mombasa, in which suicide bombers also rammed an explosives-laden car into a Kenyan beach hotel.
The Bush administration and Israel also have pointed the finger at al Qaeda, the group linked to Osama bin Laden and blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States. But they stressed that it was too early to be sure who was responsible.
The suicide bombers blew up the hotel, killing 15 persons and wounding scores. Minutes earlier, missiles were fired at the Israeli plane taking off nearby.
The U.S. State Department said Saturday that attacks similar to those in Kenya might also occur in the tiny nation of Djibouti, which borders Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and warned against U.S. citizens traveling to Yemen.
Meanwhile, Kenya will not heed Israeli demands to turn over some evidence in the attacks on the Israeli-owned hotel and the jetliner, saying yesterday that it would conduct the investigation alone.
U.S. and Israeli leaders questioned Kenya's ability to conduct a thorough investigation.
Kenyan police officials said Israeli authorities want to take pieces from a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Pajero that exploded outside the hotel. Israel also wants the launchers and missile casings from shoulder-launched rockets that are believed to have been used in the failed attempt to shoot down the Israeli charter plane.
"None of this evidence is going back to Israel. This evidence is our responsibility," said Kenyan bomb specialist Charles Jamu.
Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said from Jerusalem that Kenya had been cooperating "up to now" but that the Kenyans weren't prepared for the investigation.
Mr. Jamu said investigators found parts of two gas welding cylinders that they suspect were fastened to the vehicle's underside to cause a bigger explosion at the Paradise Hotel 12 miles north of Mombasa.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide