British Mega-9/11 Foiled (Video Added)
Scotland Yard has foiled an airline terror plot on a scale larger than the 9/11 attacks. BBC:
A plot to blow up planes in flight from the UK to the US and commit “mass murder on an unimaginable scale” has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said. It is thought the plan was to detonate explosive devices smuggled in hand luggage on to as many as 10 aircraft. Police were searching premises with 21 people in custody after arrests in the London area and West Midlands.
High security is causing delays at all UK airports. The threat level to the UK has been raised by MI5 to critical. According to MI5’s website, critical threat level – the highest – means “an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK”. Heathrow Airport has been closed to all incoming flights that are not already in the air, while several outbound services have been cancelled.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Paul Stephenson said the alleged plotters had intended “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”. “We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder,” he said. “We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives on to aeroplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in flight. We also believe that the intended targets were flights from the United Kingdom to the United States of America. “I can confirm that a significant number of people are currently in custody and the operation is ongoing.”
According to BBC sources the “principal characters” suspected of being involved in the plot were British-born. BBC home affairs correspondent Andy Tighe said police sources had told him they had found “interesting items” which were being examined. He said police acted when “something happened”. “Some kind of development that they felt if they held off any longer it could be detremental to public safety.”
BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said he did not think the police believed an attack was imminent now there had been arrests. “The reason for raising the threat level is in case there is some other sub-plot, back-up plot around this that the police aren’t aware of,” he said.
BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said given that most liquids were being banned from flights it suggested the suspected plot involved “some kind of liquid explosive”. He also said the plot had an “international dimension”, while the investigation had involved the CIA. “The Americans have definitely been involved for quite some time,” he said.
The story is obviously fast-developing. Additional bits an pieces from other source below.
Sources in the United States have reported that three airlines targeted were United, American and Continental.
“This is about people who are desperate … who want to do things that no right-minded citizen of this country or any other country would want to tolerate,” Stephenson said.
The arrests were the result of a “covert counter-terrorist operation,” police said. “It is believed that the aim was to detonate explosive devices smuggled on board the aircraft in hand luggage.” Britain’s Home Secretary John Reid said: “We are doing everything possible to disrupt any other terrorist activity. This will mean major disruptions from all UK airports.”
In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror threat to the highest level of “severe,” or red, for commercial flights originating in the United Kingdom bound for the United States. “Due to the nature of the threat revealed by this investigation, we are prohibiting any liquids, including beverages, hair gels, and lotions from being carried on the airplane,” the statement said.” A U.S. Transporation Safety Adminstration official said travelers should show up at least two hours ahead of their flights and bring plenty of patience. According to the DHS, there is no indication the plot involved American counterparts.
Bryan Preston quotes a previous version of the Sky story that had the sentence “Sky News’ Crime Correspondent Martin Brunt said he understood the threat was imminent and those arrested were mainly young, British-born Asian men.” No reference to ethnicity or religion is made in any of the above stories. Obviously, we all have educated suspicions.
Thankfully, the plot was disrupted and the intelligence (or so we’re told) indicates that a backup attack was not planned for. Still, the new countermeasures will further disrupt the economy, especially the fragile air travel industry. Flying by plane is bad enough owing to decisions by the industry to cram us into ever-smaller planes and existing security measures have ended the days when it made sense to take a plane from, for example, Chattanooga or Montgomery to Atlanta. Pre-9/11, my rule was that a five hour one-way drive made flying preferable if the rates were low enough and my stay short enough. I’ve since revised that to seven hours. The inability to take carry-on luggage probably bumps it to nine.
None of that is a complaint about counter-terrorism measures. These restrictions strike me as quite sensible under the circumstances. But it goes to show that terrorists can be quite successful even when they are horribly unsuccessful.
Walid Phares has a series of intriguing questions. Mostly, he’s fascinated by the thinking behind the terrorists’ tactical shift to hand baggage.
C.S. Scott: “Preliminary conclusions would suggest an al Qaeda affiliated plot, utilizing operatives of Pakistani or North African descent, and there are reports the suspects were British-born Asian men. MI5 believes there are between 400 and 600 al Qaeda operatives in the United Kingdom, and as many as 3,000 British-born or British-based people that went through al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.”
Dan Riehl: “Whether or not there are any dots to connect here isn’t at all clear. But there were two men arrested in Ohio (via MM) with airline schedules and airport security information. Meanwhile, we have, what, 8 Egyptian students wandering around the country, where abouts unknown. And now Britain has made a major terrorist raid said to have foiled a plot to blow up twenty airlines between Britain and the US?”
Jeff Goldstein: “Can we really be that far off from those bitchin’ x-ray machines from Total Recall?—the ones that can alert professional screeners to explosive devices hidden in a hollowed out regions of the pelvic bone?”
Tim Blair: “Damn Presbyterians.”
Sean Hackbarth agrees with me on the air travel thing: “The no carry-on restriction and liquid ban better be temporary, or else the airlines will be hurt. One reason some people own a notebook computer is to get work done while in the air. Forcing computers and mobile phones to be stowed in the belly of a plane will have many business travelers saying, “Air travel is too much of a hassle; I’m going to teleconference.” And that might be just what the Islamists want.”
Video: BAA Press conference via Stephen Taylor
First Ethnic Mention in a Mainstream Media Outlet spotting: Buried in the AP/NYT account:
The suspects were ”homegrown,” though it was not immediately clear if they were all British citizens, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. Police were working closely with the South Asian community, the official said.
To me, this does not appear to be a mainstream Al Qaeda plot, but a copy-cat plot by fellow Islamic Extremists supporting the jihad cause. There is little doubt that at least one dry run has been conducted in order to confirm that the explosives intended would pass through security undetected. The terrorists would not hatch a plot of this magnitude without some confirmation that the plan would not be stillborn at the checkpoint. This also confirms that the threat still exists – not just to aircraft, but to civilians going about their daily business. The main targets are the UK and the U.S., not surprisingly. And the new terrorist breed carry domestic identification because they are born here, but they are loyal first to the cause of Islamic Extremism – look at the Haq’s attack on the Jewish Center in Seattle. He was an American, but an Islamic Extremist terrorist first. His goal was more precise – kill Jews. The goal of this group from the UK? Kill civilians and impact the economies of both the UK and the U.S. Why now, nearly five years after 9/11? A new election is coming in the U.S., where one side is for appeasement and the other treats Islamofascism as a crime against humanity. Make the people afraid and get them to vote against war, as was done in Spain.
This happened in 1995.* Operation Bojinka was planned from the Phillippines by Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and (1993 WTC bomber) Ramzi Yousef. It was only discovered when an apartment fire by a conspirator led to the discovery of Al-Qaeda’s plot to assassinate the Pope in the Philippines—and from there to the aviation bombing.
Now, eleven years later, what’s old is new again. Anglo-Pakistanis planned a new Bojinka for a dozen or so planes crossing the Atlantic between England and America. So the terrorists are recycling their old ideas. I like to think their big thinkers are mostly dead or in jail.
MsUnderestimated has several videos of various television reports.
UPDATE (Greg Tinti): More via The Times:
So far 21 suspects – believed to be British citizens, many of Pakistani origin – have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 in overnight raids in London, the Thames Valley and Birmingham.
Detectives are currently searching a number of business and home addresses. Buildings in Walthamstow, East London, and in High Wycombe, were among those cordoned off by police tape and guarded by uniformed officers. A police spokesman said that several items of interest had been found.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, said that the terror threat to the public was unprecedented, the biggest that Britain had ever faced. Police said that the plot had a global dimension, and that the security services were co-operating with foreign security agencies.
Mr Reid said that the huge, complex operation was at an early stage and that although it was believed that the main suspects had been rounded up, police have not ruled out further arrests.
Both Britain and America have raised their terrorism security alert to the highest level.
Michael Chertoff, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, said that the plot bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, resembling the infamous Bojinka plot hatched by the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to bring down 11 airliners over the Pacific during the early 1990s.
He played down a suggestions that the plot might have been timed for the anniversary of 9/11, however, saying: “Our general experience is that terrorists are not necessarily motivated by anniversaries the way that people project. I think they were really getting quite close to the execution phase.”
Mr Reid said that the scale of the terror plot was potentially bigger than the September 11 attacks. “Had this plot been carried out, the loss of life to innocent civilians would have been on an unprecedented scale,” he said.
“The decision to take action was an operational matter, but was taken with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport, as well as myself. The Prime Minister has been briefing the President of the United States on the operation, and the Transport Secretary and I have been in close contact with the US Homeland Security Secretary and the US Transport Secretary.
“While the police are confident that the main players have been accounted for, neither they not the Government are in any way complacent.”
The leaders of both UK Opposition parties had also been kept informed and also fully behind the Government and the security services, Mr Reid added. He said that he had chaired two meetings of Cobra, the Cabinet’s emergency liaison committee with the police and the security services, which had lasted much of the night.
Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson of the Metropolitan Police said in a briefing today: “We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and, quite frankly, to commit mass murder.
“We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives onto aeroplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in mid-flight. We believe the target was flights between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
“There are 21 people who remain in custody, but the operation is ongoing. We believe we have been very successful in arresting suspects, but this is a very early stage of a very extensive and complex operation. It is a very, very serious plot… Put simply, this was a plot to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”
Senior police sources told The Times that they believed up to 12 flights to the US were going to be attacked simultaneously, probably later this summer. The suspects in custody are believed all to be British citizens, many of them of Pakistani origin.
The secret investigation into the plot has already lasted a year. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the Met’s head of anti-terrorism, said that intensive surveillance had been carried out of the meetings, movements, travel, spending and the aspirations of a large group of people, both in Britain and abroad.
“Last night the investigation reached a critical point when the decision was taken to take urgent action to disrupt what we believed was being planned,” said Mr Clarke.
In addition, FOX News is reporting that Pakistani intelligence might have played a critical role in helping to foil this plot.
UPDATE (Greg Tinti): Here’s video of President Bush on the foiled plot saying the cooperation between the U.S. and the UK and between agencies with the U.S. was “excellent” and that it’s “a mistake to think that there’s no threat to the United States of America.”
More than 20 suspected terrorists were arrested in England by early Thursday morning, in an operation that involved British intelligence, Scotland Yard and assistance by a number of other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including those in Pakistan.
ABC News has learned that two “significant arrests” in Pakistan in recent days may have significantly accelerated the pace of the investigation.
Many of the alleged terror plotters appeared to be of Pakistani descent. It appears that they were probably “homegrown” terrorists with strong links to al Qaeda and Pakistani operatives. This new generation of terrorists have figured significantly in plots in the U.S., London and Canada in recent months.
And then there’s this:
At least nine transcontinental flights from American, United and Continental airlines were targeted in the plot. ABC News has learned that terrorists planned to attack the planes three at a time, waiting an hour between each attack.
According to federal authorities, two or three bombers would each carry a separate portion of the bomb onto the plane to avoid detection. Once onboard the bomb would be assembled and then detonated by using heat or friction.
British authorities had been tracking some of the suspects for several weeks but stepped in to round up the plotters when they began to book flight reservations.
British authorities have shared parts of the investigation with the FBI, and out of concern for leaks, only the barest details were shared with regional authorities as late as last night.
Now there is a continued concern that other members of the cell remain on the loose and may remain a present danger to intercontinental air traffic as well as air traffic in Europe. Raids were expected to continue in England throughout the day, and authorities were said to be seeking the “factories” where the bomb parts were prepared.
U.S. authorities, meanwhile, were running down leads to ensure no plotters or associates were within U.S. borders and intent on causing harm. [my emphasis]
The question on my mind, and probably yours, is which day were those tickets purchased for? Were they for tomorrow, which just happens to be 8/11? Or possibly a month from tomorrow to “commemorate” the 5th anniversary?
UPDATE (James Joyner): CNN’s Henry Schuster offers this:
I spoke just a little while ago with a former Scotland Yard inspector who was involved in many of these counterterrorism cases, and he says that there is a couple of things that you have to pull away from this.
One is that obviously we’re talking about, as he said, initiated devices, suicide bombers.
Two, how would they over the period of years from 1994, when we first saw from al Qaeda this sort of planning to put bombs on airplanes. In fact in 1994, al Qaeda actually pulled off a test run of one of these bombs that was assembled on an airplane using liquid explosives and a detonator. In that case, it was a Casio watch. Here the thinking is that it might have been one of these electric key fobs.
So he says … we’re only talking about a small amount of explosives. Look at what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, had. That was only a small amount of explosives, yet it was enough to bring down a plane, and that was much evolved from what happened in 1994. In 1995 and 1996, there was a plot to bring down up to 11 transoceanic flights from the Pacific into the United States. This plot is very reminiscent of that. So you begin to see where there’s an evolution of the al Qaeda playbook here.
UPDATE (James Joyner): More on the travel annoyances:
Growing lines of irritated travelers snaked through U.S. airport terminals Thursday as people waited hours to reach security checkpoints, where they were ordered to dump their water bottles, suntan lotion and even toothpaste following the discovery of a terror plot in Britain. Guards armed with rifles stood at the security checkpoints in several airports. The governors of California and Massachusetts said they were sending the National Guard to bolster security at major airports, and New York’s governor was considering doing the same.
The new ban on all liquids and gels from carry-on luggage left people with little choice but to throw away juice boxes, bags full of makeup, perfume and bottles of liquor and wine. Baby formula and medicines were exempt but had to be inspected. “They’re ridiculous, but that’s part of the price you pay for traveling during a time like this,” Julius Ibraheem, 26, a college counselor from Chicago, said as he starred at the long lines in O’Hare Airport.
UPDATE (James Joyner): The above prompted the black humor concept “Shakes on a Plane” to occur to me. Shockingly, there are 118 such references in Google’s database.
UPDATE (James Joyner): And then there’s this:
A man aboard a Qatari Airways flight fought with flight attendants Thursday, prompting the pilot to return to Amman, but the incident was not a hijacking attempt, a government spokesman said. Initial reports from airport security officials and a Qatari Airlines spokesman said the man, identified as an Eritrean, tried to force his way into the cockpit carrying a canister that the officials said contained a liquid.
But Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh told The Associated Press that it “was a quarrel and not a hijacking attempt” and that the liquid was medicine. The man had tried to go to a bathroom 10 minutes after the flight took off from Amman for the Qatari capital, Doha, Judeh said. When the attendants told the passenger he could not leave his seat yet, he pushed an attendant to the ground before others restrained him, Judeh said. The pilot returned the plane to Amman, where the man was detained.
UPDATE (Greg Tinti): Allah reports that a dry run was planned two days from now with the attack to follow “within days.”