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Profile: British Airways
British Airways was a participant or observer in the following events:
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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