British authorities said Thursday they had disrupted a well-advanced "major terrorist plot" to blow up passenger flights between the United Kingdom and the United States using liquid explosives, prompting a full-scale security clampdown at U.S. and British airports and a cascade of delays in trans-Atlantic flights.
The plot was well planned, well financed and "well advanced," U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said at a news conference Thursday morning in Washington. It was "about as sophisticated as anything we've seen in recent years as far as terrorism is concerned. . . . This was not a situation with a handful of people sitting around dreaming about terrorist plots."
London's Deputy Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson, said 21 people had been arrested in London and in Birmingham, England, after a months-long investigation into what he said was a plan for "mass murder on an unimaginable scale." Peter Clarke, chief of the London police department's anti-terrorism branch, said the investigation reached a "critical point" Wednesday night, requiring immediate disruption of the plot, the arrests and the imposition of heightened security measures.
This is not the first time that such a plot has been envisaged.
The plot to blow up several airliners over the Atlantic, uncovered by the British authorities, bears a striking, if not eerie, resemblance to a plot hatched by Al Qaeda operatives 12 years ago to simultaneously blow up airliners over the Pacific.
[Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed code-named the operation "Bojinka," which was widely reported to have been adopted from Serbo- Croatian, meaning "big bang."
The Bojinka plot was anything but nonsense. At an apartment in Manila, Mohammed and [Ramzi] Yousef began mixing chemicals that they planned to put into containers that would be carried on board the airliners, much like the London plotters were alleged to have been planning. In those days, it would have been relatively easy to get liquid explosives past a checkpoint.
Nonetheless, despite the greater awareness of the threat, it apparently still would not have been that hard to get liquid explosives on a plane. Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, chief scientist at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College, in this interview with NPR, expresses his opinion that security officials are still not adequately prepared to prevent an attack with liquid explosives.
For a detailed primer on types of explosives, including liquid explosives, this link is pretty handy. For the most part they are unstable and highly dangerous.