Airline passengers around the country stood in line for hours and airport trash bins bulged with everything from mouthwash and shaving cream to maple syrup and fine wine Thursday in a security crackdown prompted by the discovery of a terror plot in Britain.
U.S. authorities banned the carrying of liquids onto flights after the arrest of 24 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes using explosives disguised as drinks and other common products.
The restrictions forced people to unpack their carry-on bags on the floor in the middle of terminals to remove the prohibited items. Some travelers tried to squeeze makeup, sunscreen and other toiletries into their checked baggage, where liquids were permissible.
But people without checked bags or those who had already given their luggage to their airline had to throw out the banned items.
A counter-terrorism official says ten flights were part of the alleged plot to blow up planes heading to the U.S. from Britain and the plan was to bring disassembled bomb components aboard, then put them together during the flight.
U.S. intelligence officials say the terrorists had planned to stage a
dry run within two days.
The officials say an actual attack, blowing up as many as ten planes, would have followed within days.
Several recorded so-called martyrdom tapes, indicating they were ready to die, CNN reports.
Officials describe the threat as being aimed at United, American and Continental Airlines.
American and Continental are based in Texas.
As for which flights were targeted, a Virginia homeland security official says federal authorities singled out three American airports.
He says they are Dulles, which is in Virginia near Washington, DC, as well as Kennedy in New York and Los Angeles International.
British authorities said Thursday afternoon that 24 people are now in custody in connection with the alleged plot, including the suspected ringleader.
And a senior Pakistani official said Thursday afternoon "two or three local people" have been arrested in Pakistan in recent days in connection with the aircraft terrorism plot.
Officials say the plotters planned to carry liquid components aboard planes and then combine them to create powerful explosives, which then would have been used to bring down the planes over the Atlantic Ocean.
Britain's Home Secretary John Reid says if the terrorist plan had been carried out, it would have caused death "on an unprecedented scale."
London Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the deaths could have been unprecedented in Britain, but he says it would not have been appropriate to compare them to the US losses of nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks.
President Bush called the arrests a reminder the US is “at war with Islamic fascists.”
Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn echoed the president’s sentiments.
“It is critical that Congress continues to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to disrupt and prevent such terrorist plots,” Hutchison said.
“We must take the fight to the terrorists, and we must ensure that those on the front lines of this war have the tools and resources needed to protect our nation and its people,” Cornyn said.
Gov. Rick Perry, whose office of homeland security conferred Thursday morning with security officials at more than 30 airports around the state, has talked with the heads of both American and Continental Airlines “and offered the state’s assistance if needed.”
“We face a persistent enemy that will continue the effort to destroy our way of life.” Perry said.
“That means all Texans must be vigilant and all Texans can know that the state government is taking these threats very seriously and taking numerous precautions – some seen, and others not – to keep them safe,” he said.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is sending National Guard troops to strengthen security at airports.
The governors of Massachusetts and New York have done the same.
US officials invoked a Red Level Alert Thursday for the first time since the 9/11 attacks for commercial flights inbound from Great Britain in response to the arrests in the alleged plot.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday an Orange Level Alert was in effect for all other foreign and domestic commercial flights in the US.
Chertoff said during a news conference early Thursday morning in Washington, D.C. that all liquids and gels will be banned from carry on luggage at US airports with the exception of medicines and baby formula—and those must be available for inspection at security checkpoints.
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