- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

Armed air marshals will travel on certain U.S.-bound international flights as an antiterrorism measure, the Homeland Security Department ordered yesterday.

Specific information of a terrorist threat will be shared with other countries when armed officers are deemed necessary to accompany flights to or from the United States or flying over U.S. airspace.

Airlines that ignore the order will not be permitted into U.S. airspace. The order applies to both U.S.- and foreign-based airlines.

Homeland Security issued three aviation-emergency directives Sunday night for cargo and passenger planes, as well as aircraft passing over the country.

“Specifically, we have requested that international air carriers, where necessary, place trained, armed government law-enforcement officers on designated flights as an added protective measure,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a press conference yesterday.

“These directives, effective immediately, are part of our ongoing effort to make air travel safe for Americans and visitors alike,” Mr. Ridge said.

The decision is not based on a specific threat but puts the international aviation community on notice that specific security measures will be required when intelligence reports warrant such action. The emergency amendments to federal regulations also came in response to the cancellation of six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles over the Christmas holiday because terror suspects were listed as passengers.

Mr. Ridge said the United States also “engaged in similar cooperative action” with Britain and Mexico.

“This is an added level of protection, and if conditions warrant, we’ll ask similar countries and foreign airlines to provide the same additional layer of protection,” Mr. Ridge said. The United States also is willing to help train marshals for other countries.

Homeland Security officials are conducting background checks on suspicious passengers and some flight crews before landing in the United States.

British officials alerted its airlines earlier Sunday that armed marshals may board some flights, to the dismay of its pilots.

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) authorized its flight deck crew members (FDCM) to strike if certain conditions are not met, including notification and identification of armed marshals on board.

“If any FDCM judges the risks unacceptable, then we strongly believe it is within the FDCM’s rights to refuse to operate the flight on the basis of the safety of the aircraft, its passengers and crew. BALPA will provide support for you in this eventuality,” the association said in an “urgent” notice posted on its Web site.

Russia said it will meet the request, while Canada and Germany say armed marshals are already on board some flights.

U.S. Homeland Security officials remain concerned al Qaeda terrorists will hijack commercial airlines in the United States, as they did on September 11, 2001, and say the raised threat level will continue into the new year. Shopping malls, hotels, convention centers and transit systems are also potential terrorist targets and are under increased security.

“Let me also underscore that these kinds of security actions are being put in place to better protect you as you prepare for travel, for New Year’s Eve celebrations, for bowl games, whatever your plans may be,” Mr. Ridge said.

Bulletproof cockpit doors are required aboard U.S. passenger jets. Other countries, including Britain, are adding this extra security. The Israeli airline El Al protects its pilots with double-locked strengthened doors, carries air marshals and arms its pilots.

An FBI alert issued Christmas Eve advised local and state law-enforcement officials to look for almanacs when conducting traffic stops that terrorists may use “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.”

“The practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of al Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning,” the memo said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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