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U.S. calls for more security at overseas airports

July 3, 2014, Washington, D.C. - U.S. intelligence officials are concerned that al-Qaida is trying to develop a new and improved bomb that could go undetected through airport security.


July 3, 2014
By The Associated Press

There is no indication that such a bomb has been created or that
there's a specific threat to the U.S., but the Obama administration on
Wednesday called for tighter security measures at foreign airports that
have direct flights to the U.S.

 

American intelligence has picked up indications that bomb
makers from Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have travelled
to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, known as the
Nusra Front, according to a counterterrorism official who spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly
about the matter by name. The enhanced security measures have been in
the works for the past month, he said.

 

British airports stepped up security after the reports.

 

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula long has been
fixated on bringing down airplanes with hidden explosives. It was behind
failed and thwarted plots involving suicide bombers with explosives
designed to be hidden inside underwear and explosives secreted inside
printer cartridges shipped on cargo planes.

 

Over the past year, Americans and
others from the West have travelled to Syria to join the fight against
the Syrian government. The fear is that fighters with a U.S. or other
Western passport, who therefore are subject to less stringent security
screening, could carry such a bomb onto an American plane.

 

The counterterrorism official declined to
describe the bomb. But officials in the past have raised concerns about
non-metallic explosives being surgically implanted inside a traveller's
body, designed to be undetectable in pat-downs or metal detectors.

 

The call for increased security was not
connected to Iraq or the recent violence there, said a second U.S.
counterterrorism official who was not authorized to speak publicly by
name. Another U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity,
said the increased security measures had nothing to do with the upcoming
July Fourth holiday or any specific threat.

 

The extra security is out of an "abundance of caution," the U.S. official said.

 

"People should not overreact to it or
over-speculate about what's going on, but there clearly are concerns
centred around aviation security that we need to be vigilant about,"
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said late Wednesday on MSNBC.

 

In Britain, authorities said in a
statement that passengers "should not experience significant
disruption" and that there would be no change in the threat level. "The
safety and security of the public is our paramount concern. The UK has
some of the most robust aviation security measures and we will continue
to take all the steps necessary to ensure that public safety is
maintained."

 

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told ITV that
Britain was working with the United States and other countries, "so that
where credible new threats are identified a response is then
implemented in airports around the world."

 

"The hope is that the majority of travellers
will not be unduly disrupted, but I hope also that people will
understand that we have to work together across the world to deal with
people who want to inflict harm," Clegg said.

 

Meanwhile, the State Department has instructed
U.S. Embassy employees in Algeria to avoid U.S.-owned-or-operated hotels
through July 4 and the Algerian Independence Day on July 5.

 

"As of June 2014 an unspecified terrorist group
may have been considering attacks in Algiers, possibly in the vicinity
of a U.S.-branded hotel," according to the message from the U.S. Embassy
in Algeria.

 

The U.S. shared "recent and
relevant" information with foreign allies, Johnson said in a statement
Wednesday. "Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen
and unseen, informed by an evolving environment."

 

It wasn't clear which airports were affected by
the extra security measures, but industry data show that more than 250
foreign airports offer nonstop service to the U.S.

 

Southwest Airlines, which, along with subsidiary
AirTran Airways, flies between the U.S. and Mexico and the Caribbean,
doesn't expect the directive to have much impact on its operations,
spokesman Chris Mainz said.

 

He said the focus likely would be in other
parts of the world, although the airline's security people have been
contacted by the Homeland Security Department. Mainz declined to comment
on those discussions.

 

American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed said
the airline has been in contact with Homeland Security about the new
requirements but declined to comment further.