The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Security intensifies after airline plot stopped

British authorities said Thursday they thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up 10 aircrafts heading to the United States using explosives smuggled in hand luggage, averting what police described as “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said terrorists were in the final stages of planning the attack.

As a result, flights were severely delayed and canceled all over the world.

Heathrow Airport was closed to most flights from Europe, and British Airways canceled all its flights between the airport and destination points in Britain, Europe and Libya. Flights from U.S. cities to Britain were also canceled.

Many of the first-years moving into the residence halls either flew in yesterday or drove into Dallas.

SMU first year Ryan Hawkins and his mother, however, were slowed down at the Los Angeles airport Thursday morning.

“Security was definitely slower today,” Hawkins said. “They checked our luggage twice and confiscated my mom’s lipstick.”

Unlike passengers traveling from Europe, Hawkins was still allowed to carry his iPod onto the plane.

People in Britain faced delays as tighter security was hastily enforced at the country’s airports and additional measures were put in place for all flights. Laptop computers, mobile phones, digital music players and remote controls were among the items banned from being carried on board.

Liquids, such as hair care products, mouthwash and toothpaste, were also barred on flights in both Britain and the United States.

All international students coming to SMU were checked in Wednesday and were not affected by the delays.

Washington raised its threat alert to the highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States amid fears the plot had not been completely crushed. The alert for all flights coming or going from the United States was also raised slightly.

Other students may be setback by the terror plot, and Resident Life and Student Housing has loose plans in place to make sure those students are taken care of.

“If they get in after check in closes, they will have access to their room, and they can proceed with the rest of the check-in process on Friday,” said RLSH Director Doug Hallenbeck. “We will accommodate those students as much as possible.”

The Office of New Student Programs is also making plans to assist students with delayed or canceled flights to get to Mustang Corral.

“We are still trying to figure out a set plan,” said Missy Bryant, director of New Student Programs. “Right now, we’re just working on a case by case basis on those people that might be late.”

Bryant said only two or three people have phoned in with concerns of being late.

“If it turns out that there’s a large handful of late people, then we will probably run vans to Corral after the scheduled departure,” she said. “Right now, we’re just waiting to hear from people because we can’t run vans all weekend.”

So far, police have arrested 24 people, saying they were confident they captured the main suspects in what U.S. officials said was a plot in its final phases that had all the earmarks of an al-Qaida operation. However, ABC News quoted unidentified U.S. officials who had been briefed on the plot as saying five suspects were still at large and being urgently hunted.

President Bush called the plot a “stark reminder” of the continued threat to the United States from extremist Muslims.

New threats

Experts interviewed after the British announcements say shampoo, iPods and Starbucks latteôs have suddenly become security threats.

Some envision a group of two or three terrorists mixing up explosives in an airplane bathroom, perhaps even using commonplace materials such as hydrogen peroxide and detonating their bomb with the battery from a cellphone or some other small electronic device.

“In mid-flight you could go into the toilet, attach the mobile phone to the explosives and, as the plane makes a final approach over a densely populated urban area, you detonate it,” said Irish security analyst Tom Clonan.

To puncture an aircraft’s fuselage would require an explosive charge “half the size of a cigarette packet,” he said.

Experts interviewed after Thursday’s arrest of suspects in a massive airline bomb plot say there are many ways that seemingly innocuous substances could be smuggled aboard a plane and assembled into an explosive device in flight.

That means airport security screening, now focused on detecting weapons and large amounts of explosives, might have to ban such workaday items as cell phones, hand sanitizer and contact lens solution. Flying could become an experience of extreme privation from the conveniences of modern life, preceded by even more onerous security screening.

“That theater we see, of people taking off shoes, is not going to stop a suicide bomber. The terrorists have already sniffed out the weak spots and are adopting new tactics,” Clonan said.

Officials declined to discuss whatever technology the thwarted plot uncovered. But British authorities banned all carry-on luggage, suggesting that the explosives or their ingredients would have been difficult or impossible for airport security screening to detect.

Experts said the measures suggest that terrorists planned to sneak one or more bomb ingredients aboard as many as 10 aircraft, then mix and wire them to a battery detonator.

“Their intention was to smuggle on board some kind of liquid explosive disguised as an aftershave bottle or hair conditioner or shampoo or whatever,” said M.J. Gohel, who is director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based think tank.

Evolution of terrorism

A similar threat in January 1995 led officials in the Philippines to briefly ban aerosol sprays, bottled gels and liquid containers of more than about an ounce from departing planes because of a suspected terror plot during a visit by Pope John Paul II. As in the current situation an exception was made for baby formula, even though in powdered form it could easily disguise explosives.

The Philippines plot was masterminded by Ramzi Youssef, now serving a life sentence for the first World Trade Center attack. He planned to assemble bombs using a nitroglycerin-based liquid explosive disguised as contact lens solution. The bombers were to use digital watches as timed detonators and leave the devices on board after leaving the flights during layovers.

The plot was foiled with an explosion from the Manila apartment where Youssef was doing experiments.

“The need to address this liquid explosives problem is over 10 years old,” U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., complained in a statement issued Thursday that called for improved airport security screening.

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