Highest Alert Is Maintained; Air Traffic Begins to Rebound
Saturday, August 12, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 11 -- With heavily armed patrols and painstaking screening at airports, Britain maintained its highest-level terrorism alert Friday, a day after the disclosure of an alleged plot to bomb U.S.-bound airliners. Air traffic moved more smoothly, though carriers continued to cancel some flights.
"We always err on the side of caution," said Home Secretary John Reid, explaining the continuing security measures. "There's never 100 percent certainty with these things."
The Bank of England on Friday froze the assets of 19 of the 24 suspects picked up in connection with the alleged plot and released their names and ages, which ranged from 17 to 35, with most being in their twenties. All of those identified had Muslim names.
British police reported that they had freed without charge one of those arrested, but did not name the person or explain the release.
Investigators disclosed few new findings, but intelligence officials cited mounting evidence that the alleged conspirators were receiving financial and logistical support from people in Pakistan, where officials said seven people have been arrested in connection with the alleged plot. Officials in Washington and London publicly praised the Pakistani government's cooperation in the probe.
Airports in the Washington area, meanwhile, functioned normally for the most part on Friday, though security workers continued to enforce tightened screening rules that prohibited passengers from carrying almost any liquids or gels aboard flights. Travelers adjusted by packing those items in checked baggage or leaving them behind.
British transportation and airline officials said flight delays continued in Britain, especially at London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest. A British Airways spokesman said that about 120 of the airline's 700 daily departures and arrivals there were canceled, compared with 652 cancellations on Thursday.
Most of British Airway's Friday cancellations were short-haul trips within Europe, a company spokesman said. He said 12 long-haul flights between the United States and Britain were canceled -- six between London and New York, and two each between London and Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Two popular low-cost carriers, Ryanair and easyJet, also reported numerous cancellations.
"Heathrow is slowly but surely returning to normal," said Tony Douglas, managing director of the British Airports Authority. He advised passengers to arrive early at their terminals without any carry-on luggage, to put small carry-on items such as medicines, travel documents and eyeglasses inside clear plastic bags, and to expect delays.
Airport officials said they distributed about 1,000 floor mattresses for passengers who slept at the airport's four terminals Thursday night.
At Heathrow's ticket counters, parents pulled dolls, stuffed bears, juice and snacks out of the hands of wailing children to comply with new security measures imposed Thursday, which go beyond the new U.S. rules in sharply limiting items that passengers can carry on board.
The British rules limit travelers to wallets, keys, medicine and a few other essential items, which must be carried in see-through plastic bags. Parents can carry a small amount of baby milk or food, diapers and baby wipes.
At the Royal Jordanian airline ticket counter, when a mother gently extricated an electronic game from her toddler's grasp, the reaction was instantaneous: The child threw his head back and wailed, then tried to scale the ticket counter to reclaim it from a checked-in bag, and finally resorted to pounding his mother's thighs with his fists.
Mehment Balamur, a resident of Nottingham, England, bound for Turkey, checked his bags before realizing that his 5-year-old's toys and snacks were prohibited. Out went a plastic car, juice and Pringles. "We had to throw them in the bin," said Balamur, who also was traveling with his son's 5-year-old friend. "They screamed."
At a security checkpoint, hundreds upon hundreds of passengers waited single file in a line that stretched the length of the departure hall.
"No! No way!" gasped traveler Gultane Boyraz, her jaw dropping, when she finally took a place at the end of the line. "Oh, my goodness!"
Other British airports -- including those in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool -- reported near-normal service. Elsewhere in Europe, most major carriers said they had resumed regular schedules in and out of Britain.
In Italy, authorities reported arresting about 40 people during a security crackdown prompted by the news from Britain. None was accused of terrorism-related offenses, however. The charges were immigration violations and property offenses, a police statement said.