British see broader plot after Scottish attack
Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
LONDON - British officials raised the country's terrorism threat alert to its highest level on Saturday after two men slammed an SUV into entrance doors at Glasgow Airport and turned the vehicle into a potentially lethal fireball.
Less than 38 hours earlier, the police had uncovered two cars in London rigged to explode with gasoline, gas canisters and nails.
Early Sunday, after a day of fast-moving developments, the London police announced that two people had been arrested in Cheshire, in northwest England, "in connection with the events in London and Scotland.''
The arrests were in addition to those of the two occupants of the blazing car at Glasgow Airport. A witness to the attack said on BBC television that one of the car's occupants had been ablaze from head to foot, and as he struggled with the police, "was throwing punches and shouting āņAllah, Allah.'Ā ''
Britain's threat level is now at "critical,'' meaning that another attack is considered imminent. The threat has not been as high since last year, after authorities discovered what they called a plot to attack trans-Atlantic airliners with liquid explosives.
A British security official, who like many other officials who disclosed information insisted on anonymity, said Saturday that the heightened level reflected an assessment that the London and Glasgow cases were "linked in some ways and, therefore, there are clearly individuals who have the capability and intent to carry out further attacks.''
The links related to the way the London car bombs and Glasgow airport attack had been conceived and planned, using vehicles and gasoline, the official said.
The airport in Liverpool was also closed on Saturday, apparently reflecting a fresh area of concern in an increasingly jittery nation.
In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement from Secretary Michael Chertoff saying there were no plans to raise the national threat level because there was "no specific, credible information'' suggesting any threat to the United States.
But the federal government took a number of steps on Saturday, given the events in Britain and the approaching July 4 holiday, to elevate security.
Homeland Security officials said they included additional bomb detection canine teams at airports and behavior-detection squads. The New York City police said they were monitoring events in London and Scotland and were maintaining the heightened security that began after the discovery of the car bombs in London. The measures include sending officers into parking garages with sensors that detect the presence of chemical, biological and radiological agents, and closely monitoring tourist areas, including nightclubs, said the department's chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne.
Although there were questions throughout the day about whether the Glasgow vehicle crashed intentionally, by Saturday night, Sir William Rae, the chief constable of the Strathclyde area around Glasgow, said it was an act of terrorism.
Rae said one of the two men was found to be wearing a "suspicious device'' at the hospital where he was being treated, and the hospital was evacuated. Rae declined to comment on reporters' suggestions that the assailant - said to be in critical condition - had been wearing an explosive belt. A person with knowledge of the investigation, however, said that the device was a suicide belt, and also that the car contained propane canisters.
Rae said the attack at the airport, Scotland's largest, was linked to the car bombs in London, but he did not elaborate.
In July 2005, four suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's transit system, and another set of attacks failed two weeks later, bringing home to Britain fears of homegrown terrorist attacks among its disenfranchised South Asian population. Witnesses said the two men in the Glasgow attack were South Asian.
In office only since Wednesday, a somber Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared briefly on national television from 10 Downing Street late Saturday. "I want all British people to be vigilant and I want them to support the police and all the authorities in the difficult decisions that they have to make,'' he said. "I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong.''
Saturday was the first full day of the school summer vacations; thousands of people were awaiting flights in Glasgow. The sight of the dark green Jeep Cherokee smashing into the building and bursting into flames spread panic and terror in the terminal. A Glasgow police spokeswomen, Elisa Dunn, said that five bystanders were injured, and that one was hospitalized for a leg injury, according to The Associated Press.
Hours after the attack, hundreds of passengers remained on stranded airplanes on the tarmac. The authorities said they could not be allowed into the terminal because of potential further dangers.
The events in London and Scotland deepened foreboding among security experts that Britain was confronting a new threat: the use of relatively unsophisticated, homemade explosive devices to spread mayhem.
The alert began early Friday, when the two cars, Mercedes sedans, were found in the central West End theater and nightclub district.
After the midafternoon crash through doors at Glasgow Airport on Saturday, accounts by witnesses gathered by news agencies were confused, but some spoke of the two occupants of the car smashing bottles of gasoline and struggling with police officers and others who tried to restrain them. The man on fire may have immolated himself.
The attack came as London - already worried by the rigged cars - braced for a weekend of high-profile events, including a concert to honor the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales; a Gay Pride March; and the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
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