- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Police stopped and searched every vehicle entering Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning in a security sweep they described as a response to the nation’s Code Orange security alert.

The unusual step of searching all vehicles coincides with heightened Department of Homeland Security warnings that al Qaeda seeks to use commercial aircraft as weapons, possibly in the Washington area.

“It’s a function of the [Code Orange] threat-level designation,” BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said. “It’s simply one of the security initiatives in place. There’s no specific incident or threat which prompted the 100 percent vehicle inspections.”

Future searches of vehicles will occur at BWI, bridges and tunnels at “unspecified times,” said Dennis Schrader, Maryland Office of Homeland Security director.

“The idea is to have unpredictable disruptive tactics,” he said.

Searches of all vehicles started at 10:15 a.m. and continued for two hours along the section of Interstate 195 leading to the airport.

The stops created only small traffic backups. Most vehicles were delayed five to 10 minutes while waiting in line, plus another minute or two for the search, MTA police said. No unusual incidents were reported among the motorists stopped by police.

Maryland Transportation Authority police have done searches of vehicles stopped randomly at BWI since the Homeland Security Department announced the Code Orange threat level Dec. 21. Other airports in the Washington area and nationwide also conduct random checks.

MTA police, who made the decision to search all vehicles at BWI, would not say when they would do them again.

“[MTA police] conduct the searches at their discretion,” said Cheryl Stewart, BWI spokeswoman. “Under [Code Orange], whenever they feel it’s necessary to do a 100 percent search of all vehicles, they do it.”

Airport officials advise travelers to arrive 90 minutes before their scheduled takeoff to avoid delays that might be caused by security procedures.

BWI officials said no problems have occurred with security at the airport since British Airways flights to Washington Dulles International Airport were delayed and canceled several times last week.

Intelligence reports focused suspicions on British Airways Flight 223 to and from London’s Heathrow Airport.

Washington Metropolitan Area Airports Authority spokesman Tom Sullivan could not confirm whether the flights were escorted by U.S. fighter jets.

The agency operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

The first Flight 223 was detained Dec. 31 for about three hours at Dulles by authorities, who cited “credible information” about suspected terrorist activity.

Other Flight 223 trips, which run almost daily, also were delayed by strict security procedures.

Yesterday, a Delta Air Lines flight from Paris to Cincinnati was escorted by U.S. fighter jets after a “suspicious” female passenger with hidden wires in her jacket was taken off the plane in Paris.

All passengers were rescreened when the flight landed in Cincinnati.

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