• British authorities say they have disrupted a massive, imminent midair terror plot involving suicide bombers carrying liquid explosives in their carry-on baggage on U.K.-to-U.S. commercial flights. “Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale,” says Scotland Yard.
• According to Sky News, the plot involved six planes. Earlier reports had said “as many as 20 planes” were involved. Scotland Yard would not confirm the number of planes. The planes were to be blown up en route to America (or possibly “over UK and US cities,” according to one early report).
• Fox News reports that a knowledgeable U.S. official says this plot had a “serious Al Qaeda connection.”
• Police know of specific flights on which the terrorists were booked, according to Sky. “They were not yet sitting on an airplane, but they were very close to travelling,” says a U.S. intelligence official, according to Fox.
• 21 would-be terrorists were arrested overnight in London. At least 2 others are still at-large, possibly “many others,” according to Fox. “We believe that these arrests have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted,” says Michael Chertoff. (Here is the full Homeland Security statement.) The arrested individuals are British-born young male Muslims, possibly of Pakistani origin, according to Sky.
• The U.K. is at its highest terror alert level, indicating an “imminent” threat. The U.S. terror threat level has been raised to red for flights from Britain to the United States, and to orange for all U.S. domestic, U.S.-bound international, and U.S.-to-U.K. flights. It is the first time the U.S. terror level has ever reached “red” for any part of the country.
• Because the plot involved “liquid chemical devices” to be smuggled on board via carry-on bags, incredibly strict new security measures have been instituted in Britain. Virtually no carry-on baggage is being allowed on board flights in Britain. Electronic devices, e.g. iPods, are reportedly banned and must be checked as luggage. What few items are allowed, reportedly must be carried in transparent bags. Because of the unprecedented security measures, there are extremely long lines and massive, crippling delays at British airports. All in-bound flights to Heathrow have been cancelled if they are not currently in the air. Many airlines and airports elsewhere are cancelling all flights to the U.K., and British passengers are asked not to come to the airport “unless absolutely necessary.” Heathrow is a madhouse.
• Some of the new security measures are being instituted in the U.S. as well. Virtually all liquids are being banned from all planes. The only exception is for baby formula, and it is allowed only if the parent drinks some of it him/herself, in front of a security agent, to prove that it’s not a liquid explosive (!!). According to the TSA:
NO LIQUIDS OR GELS OF ANY KIND WILL BE PERMITTED IN CARRY ON BAGGAGE. ITEMS MUST BE IN CHECKED BAGGAGE. This includes all beverages, shampoo, sun tan lotion, creams, tooth paste, hair gel, and other items of similar consistency.
Exception: Baby formula and medicines must be presented for inspection at the checkpoint.
Beverages purchased in the boarding area (beyond the checkpoint) must be consumed before boarding because they will not be permitted on board the aircraft.
• Prediction: this will have long-term ramifications for airline passengers, much like the “shoe bomber” case did. Obviously the strictest of these emergency measures cannot remain in place indefinitely, but security measures for carry-on baggage will be more stringent for the foreseeable future. (The publicly-drinking-baby-formula thing, however, will not last.)
NOTE: This post was originally published at 10:22 PM; it was bumped to top of homepage at 12:17 AM. The original post, and sequential updates, are after the jump.
***** ORIGINAL POST & SEQUENTIAL UPDATES BELOW *****
BBC Breaking News alert: “Anti-terror police in the UK say they have foiled a plot to blow up aircraft mid-flight with devices hidden in hand luggage.”
UPDATE: Details here:
A terrorist plot to blow up planes in mid-flight from the UK to the US has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said.
It is thought the plan was to detonate explosive devices smuggled on aircraft in hand luggage.
Hmm. Sounds kinda like the plot that Richard Reid was an advance scout for… except with carry-on bags instead of shoes. Anyway, the article continues:
Police have arrested about 18 people in the London area after an anti-terrorist operation lasting several months.
Security at all airports in the UK has been tightened and delays are expected. MI5 has raised the UK threat level to critical - the highest possible.
According to MI5’s website, critical threat level means “an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK”.
Confirming the perceived seriousness of the threat, the security measures they’re taking are very drastic:
Passengers will not be allowed to take any hand luggage on to any flights in the UK, the department said.
Only the barest essentials - including passports and wallets - will be allowed to be carried on board in transparent plastic bags.
“We hope that these measures, which are being kept under review by the government, will need to be in place for a limited period only,” the statement said.
UPDATE 2: The Guardian has more, including additional details on the newly enacted security measures.
This is also now CNN’s top story, though no e-mail breaking-news alert has been sent out.
The 24-hour news networks are all over it, and now it’s finally Drudge’s top story, with red text. (Took him a while, by Drudge standards.)
UPDATE 3: Sky News: “Police say they have disrupted a major plot to blow as many as 20 planes over UK and US cities with explosive devices smuggled aboard as hand luggage.” Jesus H. Christ! Well, that explains why they’re going to high alert for an “imminent” attack. They’ve arrested a bunch of people, but there could be others still out there, if the plot is that massive.
Nothing much yet from the blogosphere, but I expect Malkin to be all over this when she wakes up.
UPDATE, 12:04 AM: The plot was expected to cause “considerable loss of life,” says Britain’s home secretary.
“Could have been bigger than 9/11,” says the Fox News anchor.
Fox News TV reports that now the U.S. government has also raised its alert level to the highest level — red alert — specifically for commercial flights flying between Britain and the United States. The overall national threat level remains the same.
U.S. airlines will soon be implementing the “no hand luggage” rules for flights to U.K. as well, according to Fox.
UPDATE, 12:25 AM: Brussels airport has cancelled all flights to Britain. Massive lines at U.K. airports because of stringent security measures.
Long term, this is going to seriously f**k air travel. Just like Richard Reid forced us all to take off our shoes at the airport, this is going to result in seriously enhanced carry-on security measures. The current emergency measures in Britain are of course unsustainable in the long term, or even the medium term, but I think we will definitely see more stringent bag checks, longer lines, etc. in the coming days and weeks, which will ultimately, in some watered-down form, become part of the “new normal.”
UPDATE, 12:31 AM: ALL LIQUIDS BANNED FROM AIRLINES in the United States — including beverages, hair gels and lotions.
UPDATE, 12:52 AM: Now Sky News sources are saying “all those arrested were British Muslims.” Conflicting reports about whether there were 10-12 or up to 20 people arrested. Police are still looking for two more terrorists. They were all booked on consecutive flights heading out from London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester airports. They were operating in cells.
The entire U.K. is now closed to all inbound flights!
UPDATE, ~1:00 AM: British police say the scale of the plot, if executed successfully, “would have surpassed 9/11.” But Sky News is now reporting that only six flights were involved, so that seems wrong, at least in terms of the numerical death toll.
UPDATE, 1:11 AM: Sky News is calling the heightened security measures “unprecedented,” even including the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Mothers are being asked to publicly drink their baby’s formula to prove that it’s really not a deadly liquid chemical. (Prediction: that particular security measure won’t last long.)
UPDATE, 1:17 AM: Fox says the plot was in the works for 8 or 9 months.
UPDATE. 1:32 AM: Fox News is reporting that “dozens” of would-be terrorists have been arrested — perhaps as many as 50 — according to an intelligence official. The plot had “a footprint to Al Qaeda,” the official says.
UPDATE, 1:52 AM: Scotland Yard holding a press conference
“Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”
[added later] “We have been very successful in arresting those we were targeting but this is a lengthy operation, and no doubt there will be further developments … We think this was an extraordinarily serious plot.”
“We are confident that we’ve prevented” the plot from going forward, apparently imminently (though he didn’t say that outright). But he says he can’t give very many other details at this point, e.g. the number of planes, whether the terrorists are “homegrown,” etc.
“The action being taken, which is causing severe disruption, is absolutely necessary.”
UPDATE, 2:05 AM: Bush & Blair have known about the plot for quite a while — at least 10 days, probably more — according to Fox/Sky.
Scotland Yard says there were 21 arrests, mostly in London, but some in the Thames Valley and Birmingham. Arrests began last night.
FINAL UPDATE, 2:10 AM: Unfortunately, I have work in the morning, so I have to stop blogging this story now. I also will not be able to update it much, if at all, during the work day tomorrow. If anyone reading this post is in a position to continue blogging this story throughout the day, and would like to sign up as a guestblogger, please e-mail me at