- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday for the first time put the U.S. aviation industry on its highest alert for a threatened terrorist attack, raising the level to Code Red for all flights from Britain and Code Orange for all domestic flights.

Federal and state security officials scrambled Wednesday night and yesterday morning to put new screening procedures in place at major airports, after British authorities thwarted a terror plot.

Authorities banned liquids — including gels, shampoos, contact-lens solution, perfumes, even lip gloss — on board all flights until further notice. Officials said terrorists planned to use such packages to smuggle TATP, or acetone peroxide, a lethal explosive thought to have been used in the London transit bombings last year, onto commercial jets.

“We recognize these measures are going to be inconvenient, but they are proportionate to the very real threat to the lives of innocent people that was posed by this plot,” Mr. Chertoff said. “There will be exceptions for baby formula and medicines, but travelers must be prepared to present these items for inspection at the checkpoint and that will allow us to take a look at them and make sure that they’re safe to fly.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent 300 National Guard troops to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland airports, which receive direct flights from Europe. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and New York Gov. George E. Pataki also said they would activate Guard troops for airline-security duty at airports in Boston and New York.

Airline passengers also will be screened twice — at the main security gate and again at the boarding gate, officials said.

“Plans evolved fast; this is just a huge operational adjustment,” said one government security official. “There are big lines and tons of materials that we have to dispose of. There has been no time to educate the public because we put this together in the wee hours of the morning.”

Federal law-enforcement authorities say the would-be bombers intended to detonate their devices on United, American and Continental flights bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, Los Angeles International and Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

Administration officials yesterday were reluctant to blame al Qaeda for the planned attacks.

“The perpetrators who were arrested overnight were extremists who had gone beyond just stating a desire to kill Americans,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “Their plotting turned to action as they took several steps to carry out their deadly plan.

“Their focus appears to have been on the use of liquid explosives,” he said. “We are still assessing the links to al Qaeda. However, a plot of this sophistication is suggestive of al Qaeda tactics.”

Mr. Gonzales said the FBI, along with other U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, “have worked closely” with British authorities “on all aspects of this case” and have “aggressively pursued every domestic lead that has arisen from the intelligence that led to these arrests.”

Although there is no evidence that the British plot involved any terrorists in the United States, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said al Qaeda and its affiliates have a “sustained interest” in targeting public-transportation systems.

“We have been sharing information and cooperating with domestic and international law-enforcement and intelligence authorities. … At this time, there is no specific or credible information regarding plotting within the U.S.,” Mr. Kolko said.

The disrupted scheme is similar to an al Qaeda plot in the Philippines in 1995 that sought to bomb 11 U.S. passenger jets over the Pacific. Code-named Bojinka, the Serbian word for “explosion,” it was uncovered after police in Manila responded to a fire at an apartment rented by Abdul Hakim Murad and Ramzi Yousef.

Yousef later was arrested in Pakistan and convicted in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Manila police found bomb-making materials in a sink and a laptop computer full of coded information.

U.S. intelligence sources said Yousef had produced liquid explosives undetectable by airport security devices, which he could detonate with a digital watch. The explosive liquid was concealed in a contact-lens case, with cotton wool as a stabilizer. He used two 9-volt batteries to power light-bulb filaments that would spark an explosion.

Federal authorities and intelligence officials said disruption of the British plot did not mean that the threat had passed, noting that Britain remains as a major staging area for al Qaeda terrorists looking to strike the United States and other targets. Britain is home to a large Muslim community, predominantly of Pakistani origin.

Pilots and air crews were not briefed on the British plot before the new security measures were put in place, one pilot said yesterday.

“Cabin crews were extremely upset because they were confiscating all of our things this morning,” he said, “and passengers are upset because all of their things were being confiscated, including one lady who had to give up lip gloss that was apparently very expensive.”

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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