By Jeff Edwards, Justine Smith And Dawn Knight
Mirror, Jan 3, 2004
www.mirror.co.uk . . .
A BA flight to Washington was cancelled at the last minute yesterday after an intelligence tip-off that a woman suicide bomber planned to blow up the plane over the US capital.
It was the third day running that a major security scare had hit the afternoon Flight 223 service from Heathrow to Washington.
US security services told Scotland Yard the woman - almost certainly linked to al-Qaeda - intended to hide eight to 12 ounces of plastic explosive in her vagina.
She would then go to the toilet during the Boeing 747 flight, remove the material and detonate a blast that would down the aircraft.
A senior Yard source told the Daily Mirror: "Smuggling a bomb on to a plane by this method is one of our worst nightmares.
"If you do not have specific information about the suspect, it would be impossible to carry out an intimate body search of every female passenger."
The source said intelligence information indicated only that an attack was planned for "sometime over the holiday period".
Apparently, a particular BA flight number was at risk.
The source added: "Because the intelligence did not identify a passenger by name, it was decided to disrupt the plot by cancelling the flights."
Defence analyst Paul Beaver said: "We have got intelligence, I am told, that there was a plan to take the aircraft and destroy it over Washington or fly it into something."
Yesterday's cancellation of the 3.05pm London-Washington service came less than two hours before take-off time.
BA had already checked in most of the 180 passengers for a plane that can take 490 when full.
After advice and deliberation, the firm aborted flight 223 at 1.15pm.
The same flight had been grounded on Thursday after the US intelligence was passed to the Yard.
And on Wednesday, the afternoon service to Washington was escorted in to Dulles airport by F-16 fighter jets.
The pilot was ordered to taxi to a spot far from the terminal, where the terrified 247 passengers were detained for three hours without being told why.
Security officers questioned travellers, paying particular interest to a woman who appeared Arabic. Nobody was arrested.
Fears of another September 11 attack have heightened in recent weeks and prompted controversial British government plans to put armed air marshals on some flights.
Yesterday BA apologised to passengers who had checked in for the inconvenience, but did not tell them of the specific threat.
A statement said: "Following the latest advice from the UK Government received this afternoon, British Airways has cancelled today's flight BA223 from London Heathrow to Washington due to security reasons.
"It is expected that other flights across the British Airways network will operate as normal today."
Keith Holeman, 47, trying to get home to Alabama via Washington after a holiday in the UK with his wife and children, said: "We've been given no extra information, and we don't know what we're risking."
Defence expert Beaver spoke of a "real threat" as news emerged of the latest flight 223 scare.
He said: "This is certainly unusual. The intelligence is very, very precise, which is why this one flight has been cancelled.
"Washington is the definite target. All I know is there is a real and definite threat."
Mr Beaver said al-Qaeda was known to have cells in America and one in Europe, either in London or Paris.
The US revealed more details about the drama at Dulles early on New Year's Day as flight 223 passengers were kept on the runway following the fighter escort.
A security official said the decision was based on facts, not just suspicions over passenger names.
He said: "We had concerns with individuals on the flight, but threat-reporting information led us to make the decision to have the flight escorted.
The official stressed it was "fact-related" and not just connected to the passenger list the US now receives from airlines flying in.
An Aeromexico flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles, believed numbered 223, had also been cancelled after US authorities refused to allow it to land.
Passengers from Thursday's aborted trip were transferred to alternative flights, but only after rigorous security screening.
Three Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles were cancelled just before Christmas over fears of an al-Qaeda hijack plot. However one of the suspicious names on the passenger list which triggered alarm turned out to be a Welsh insurance agent.
Another, feared to be a Tunisian terror leader, was in fact a child.
A third was an elderly Chinese woman and the other three were French citizens.
BA was yesterday struggling to find alternative transport for the passengers left stranded in London.
William Mallett, 38, his wife, Cathy Lewis and their son Jack, from Ashford, Middlesex, were making their way through passport control as the news came.
Mrs Lewis said: "The staff said they wouldn't be checking us in unless there was a very good chance the flight was going to go."
Mr Mallett, a transport consultant now living with his family in Arlington, Virginia, said: "I have been telling myself that if they are paying attention to this flight in particular, that is a good thing.
"But if there was a terrorist aboard would they shoot us down?"
Some stranded passengers were told BA could not accommodate them all.
A letter from the airline to travellers trying to check in at Heathrow on a later flight said: "Please accept sincere apologies for the disruption to your travel arrangements.
"We have prioritised passengers who were booked on the cancelled BA223 yesterday (Thursday)."
The British Airports Authority said there did not appear to be a problem with flight 223 passengers, but the flight itself.
A spokeswoman said: "It's the scheduled flight, not the passengers, that is causing the security delays."
Today's BA flight from Heathrow to Saudi capital Riyadh and the return trip have been scrapped for security reasons.
Home Secretary David Blunkett held talks with US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge yesterday to discuss ways to minimise disruption on flights to America.
The Home Office said the talks had been "very useful", but no specific plans had emerged during the telephone conversation.
-A CHILEAN was removed from a Madrid-Luton flight on Thursday night after he started talking loudly about the "end of the world".
He was later found with two penknives which had escaped screening detection. The man was taken into custody for questioning. The flight took off at 10.30pm, an hour later than scheduled.
What's the best use for a vagina ?! -- Ask the islamists ...
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