| Passengers wait for their flights at London’s Stansted airport on Thursday. (AP)
Washington, Aug. 10 (Reuters): The American government raised the security alert on passenger planes to its highest level for the first time today after Britain said it had foiled a plot to blow up flights to the US.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it took the unprecedented step of raising the threat level for commercial flights originating in the UK to “severe” or red, its highest level.
The threat level for all other commercial aircraft operating in or destined for the US would be raised to “high,” or orange, from “elevated,” or yellow, homeland security secretary Michael Chertof said.
Britain said the plot may have involved a “liquid chemical” device, and US homeland security barred passengers from carrying liquids, including beverages, hair gels and lotions, aboard planes.
Canada said it had increased airport security in coordination with the US and Britain, banning passengers from bringing gels and liquids on all flights. Chertoff said the plot was in the final planning stages. He considered US air travel safe following the precautions taken on both sides of the Atlantic.
President George W. Bush said today a foiled plot to blow up airplanes was a “stark reminder” that the US was “at war with Islamic fascists”.
He said while the US was safer than before the September 11 attacks, it was still not completely safe and it would be a mistake to believe there was no threat to the United States
Chertoff said the al Qaida could be behind the plot.
“While this operation was centred in Great Britain, it was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was international in scope,” he told a news conference.
“This operation is in some respects suggestive of an al Qaida plot, but because the investigation is still under way, we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion.
“We’re going to wait until all the facts are in.” He said the US was sending air marshals to Britain to expand security coverage to prevent efforts to blow up flights to America.
FBI director Robert Mueller said there was no evidence any of the plotting took place within the US, which was the centre of planning, preparation and execution of the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington that killed almost 3,000 people.
Bush had known about the investigation for several days, was briefed about it regularly and knew the arrests were coming, a senior administration official said.