- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — An Interagency government task force is working on measures to protect the nation's commercial airliners from attack by terrorists who use shoulder-fired missiles, and a number of security steps have already been instituted, the White House said Wednesday.

Concern over the prospect of an airliner being shot down by a shoulder-fired missile were heightened after unidentified militants fired two missiles at a chartered Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, late last year.

The unsuccessful Nov. 28 attack coincided with a bombing of a tourist hotel north of the city in which 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and the three suicide attackers were killed.

In May, unidentified terrorists fired a missile at a U.S. military aircraft in Saudi Arabia.

"Aviation security has been and remains an important issue," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The National Security Council has had a series of meeting with the FBI, Transportation Safety Agency and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) on comprehensive steps to be taken."

Fleischer said work on counter-measures to protect commercial airlines has been going on for an "extended period" of time.

"Some steps have already been taken, which the public will not know about," he said.

Following the Sept. 211, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington with hijacked airliners, the government has tried to tighten security at airports. Baggage and passenger screeners have been federalized, armed air marshals have been put on planes, and screening procedures for check baggage are being instituted nationwide.

The White House on Wednesday did not outline what measures were being taken to counter the missile threat, but unidentified officials told The Washington Post they range from sophisticated technologies to monitoring airport perimeters.

The terrorists in the Kenya and Saudi incidents used Russian-built surface-to-air missiles, designated SA-7s. The heat-seeking missiles and launchers measure less than 5 feet in length.

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