Thousands could have died. Planes would have been ripped apart mid-flight. And it would have been done very, very easily. British police released details on Thursday of a planned terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, an attack that would use liquid explosives to bring down as many as ten planes in a nearly simultaneous strike against Britons and Americans alike. The following is a comprehensive recap of the major developments that occurred on Thursday, August 10, 2006.
The Plot: Boarding a plane heading towards the United States, terrorist would have smuggled different parts of the liquid solution onboard in sports drink containers. The peroxide-based solution would then be assembled and detonated onboard the aircraft by such devices as a disposable camera or a music player, the Associated Press is reporting. There would have been two to three men onboard each plane. Reports say that the plot was well-advanced and in the final stages. Some media reports have the attack being just days away. At least one martyrdom tape was found during ongoing raids across England.
Targeted in the plot were United, American and Continental Airline flights from Britain to major U.S. destinations, which counterterrorism officials said “probably included” New York, Los Angeles and the nation’s capitol. Officials say that they believe the terrorist were going to use as few as six planes – and as many as ten. The planes would have been blown up during mid-flight. Officials say that it is very likely that this attack may have been planned to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks.
The Investigation: This information did not come in overnight, officials are stressing. These raids in Britain are a result of a monthslong investigation, known to the intelligence community as Operation Covert. After it became clear that the plot involved planes heading towards America, Britain notified U.S. officials. Together, they worked to unravel the threads of this plot. After learning that the plotters hoped to stage a practice run within two days, with the actual attack expected just days after, authorities moved quickly to apprehend the would-be homicide bombers. The test run was designed to see whether those involved would be able to smuggle the needed materials aboard the planes. The plotters had identified the airlines and routes they wanted to use, but had not yet picked out flight numbers.
British officials say that the money trail is leading to Karachi, Pakistan where money for the plot was wired to London. There are reports that two of the people arrested in London came to Karachi for explosives training with known al-Qaeda commanders.
According to ABC News’ investigative unit, there was an undercover operative deep inside the group. Even with a mole working on the inside, the British may not have known the full scope of the plot until it grew close to frutation. Investigators say that there were three distinct cells, whose members may not have been aware of the others or the extent of their assignment. As many as 50 participants and accomplices were involved.
The goal of the attacks was to deal out “mass death and destruction,” and give a crippling blow to Heathrow Airport. Heathrow has been a top al-Qaeda target since September 11th. Though no official link has yet been established, this case bears the earmarks of an al-Qaeda operation, officials are telling the media. Five key members of the cell, described by authorities as the ringleaders, remain at large. Officials are working to find them and their associates before they can carry out any “Plan B” that they might have planned.
The British Response: British authorities have so far arrested 24 people based partly on intelligence from Pakistan, where authorities detained up to three other people a few days ago in connection with this plot. More arrested are expected as the investigation continues. The suspects, who’s ages range from 17 to the mid-30’s, were believed to be mainly British Muslims. Some are thought to have a Pakistani background, while all suspects had gone to Pakistan in recent months. The Bank of England has frozen the assets of 19 of the suspects, in connection with the investigation. They have also released the names of the suspects. (Bank of England Link) Raids have so far been carried out at homes in London, High Wycombe and in Birmingham. Britain’s government raised their terror alert to its highest level – critical – which warns that a terrorist attack could be imminent. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair thanked police and security servicemen for their role in the investigation:
“I would like to pay tribute to the immense effort made by the police and security services, who for a long period of time have tracked this situation and been involved in an extraordinary amount of hard work. I thank them for the great job they are doing in protecting our country.“There has been an enormous amount of cooperation with the US authorities which has been of great value and underlines the threat we face and our determination to counter it.”
The American Response: The Department of Homeland Security put all planes coming into America from Britain at a code red, marking the first time a code red alert has ever been used in the United States. Aviation as a whole was put on an orange/high alert. In wake of the arrests, no liquids are allowed onboard carry-on luggage anymore. Mouthwash, shaving cream, syrup, drinks, and even wine was tossed into trash bins. “We want to make sure that there are no remaining threats out there,” said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “And we also want to take steps to prevent any would-be copycats who may be inspired to similar conduct.”
President Bush urged Americans to be patient with the new security measures. “Travelers are going to be inconvenience as a result of the steps we’ve taken. I urge their patience and ask them to be vigilant. The inconvenience is — occurs because we will take the steps necessary to protect the American people.”
More Information: The following links provide up-to-the-minute information on this developing story:
- ABC News: The Blotter
- BBC News
- Financial Times (UK)
- ITV News
- Sky News
- Yahoo! News Full Coverage: Terrorism & 9/11