August 10, 2006

Foiled plot “comparable to 9/11″

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The plot foiled by Britain to blow up
U.S.-bound flights would been as horrific as the September 11
attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, U.S. Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Thursday.

The suspected plotters were "a couple days from a test, and
a few days from doing it," according to a U.S. intelligence
official. Chertoff said the plan would have involved
coordinated multiple suicide bombings.

"If these plotters had succeeded in taking down multiple
jets carrying hundreds of people, we would have seen a disaster
on a scale comparable to 9/11 with hundreds and maybe thousands
of people being killed," Chertoff said in an interview on PBS's
"NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."

He said al Qaeda might have been involved, and that the
United States was in a race against "terrorist ingenuity."

The U.S. government heightened security on passenger
planes, barring air travelers from carrying any liquids after
Britain said it had thwarted the plot to target about 10
transatlantic flights.

The bombers planned to hide explosive gel or liquid in a
sports drink and then detonate it with the flash from a
disposable camera, ABC News reported.

U.S. officials said the aim was to blow up the planes in
flight rather than to attack cities. The plot involved flights
to an undetermined number of U.S. cities including New York,
Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, a U.S.
intelligence official said.

President George W. Bush said the plot was a "stark
reminder" the United States was "at war with Islamic fascists,"
while tighter security at airports caused chaos as passengers
were forced to throw out seemingly innocuous items like bottles
of water.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department barred passengers
from carrying liquids, including drinks, hair gels and lotions.
Officials had said that the foiled plot involved a liquid
chemical device.

National Guard forces were to be activated in Massachusetts
and California to assist airport screeners.

For travelers, tighter security at airports nationwide
meant longer waits than usual at security checkpoints.

"I don't like flying on the best of days," said Sophie
Bartholomew, 30, traveling with her 9-week-old daughter, Chloe,
and her husband, Jason. She was allowed to take baby formula on
board but was told at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport that
one of the parents might have to taste it.


U.S. Muslim groups criticized Bush for using the words
"Islamic fascists."

"The problem with the phrase is it attaches the religion of
Islam to tyranny and fascism, rather than isolating the threat
to a specific group of individuals," said Edina Lekovic,
spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los

Charles Allen, chief intelligence officer at the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, would not confirm an ABC news
report that British police were seeking five more people.

British police said 24 people were in custody in connection
with the plot. All were British, Allen told reporters.

A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said
Continental Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines
flights had been targeted for attack.

Chertoff said the government took the unprecedented step of
raising the threat level for U.S.-bound commercial flights
originating in Britain to "severe" or red, its highest level.

The threat level for all other commercial aircraft
operating in or destined for the United States would be raised
to "high," or orange, he said.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, Todd Eastham,
David Morgan and Kristin Roberts in Washington)