Security at UK airports is being immediately tightened after US spies warned of the “credible threat” of an al-Qa’ida terror attack.
The measures will involve unspecified additional checks for passengers going through security, and the Department for Transport said the changes in “upcoming days” may not only be restricted to terminals serving flights to America.
It comes in the wake of reports of a “new generation” of non-metallic bombs being developed by al-Qa’ida affiliates in Syria and Yemen, which previously claimed responsibility for the failed 2009 Detroit underwear bombing plot.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the Government was acting on “advice and information that we have received” from the US, and that he “hoped” there would not be “significant delays” as a result.
“I hope it won't delay [passengers] that much,” he said. “There have to be extra checks made but those will be made in the course of events going through the security that people already go through, which are fairly stringent as it is.”
Issuing a statement regarding the changes, Mr McLoughlin’s department said it would not be discussing the specifics of new security measures “for obvious reasons”.
It said: “We have taken the decision to step up some of our aviation security measures. The majority of passengers should not experience significant disruption.”
There will be no change to the UK’s terror threat level, which will remain at “substantial”. The third of five degrees of alertness, it means that a major attack is a strong possibility at any time.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said today that the enhanced security checks will be in place for the foreseeable future and not “just a blip for a week”.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that he hoped disruption would be minimal as a result of the “credible new threat”, adding: “We will play our part as will other countries to make sure where security checks can be tightened up, they will be.”
The “threat” is based on US intelligence reports that militant groups in the Middle East are preparing “creative” new explosive devices that could be carried undetected on to commercial flights.
America’s ABC News quoted a defence source as saying the threat is “different and more disturbing” than previous plots, which involved explosives hidden in toothpaste, shoes and ink cartridges. The US is increasing security at its airports and has asked other countries to do the same.
The developing danger is thought to have been discussed by senior intelligence officials at the White House last week, according to ABC. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue new instructions to international airports where flights into the US originate, including closer inspection of travellers’ electronics and shoes, more random passenger screenings and several other undisclosed activities.
The new directives reportedly stem from intelligence focused on Jabhat al-Nusra, a group of radical militants based in Syria, who are believed to be working with members of al-Qa’ida’s franchise in Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, to fashion innovative designs for explosives to be used to bring down planes. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula was responsible for the so-called “underwear bomb”, a thwarted plot to target a flight from the Netherlands to Detroit in 2009.
President Barack Obama has said his administration is particularly concerned by the presence of foreign militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, who could board flights to the US without a visa, using their European passports. In an interview with NBC, Mr Obama said: “We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause travelling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back.