Monday, February 01, 2010

Terrorists able to circumvent body scanners

According to a report in the Daily Mail terrorists are already seeking ways to circumvent body scanners that some airport authorities are installing in the wake of a failed Christmas Day attack. In that incident the suspect carried explosives sewn into his underwear and which might have been detected by new hi-tech scanners which can see through peoples' clothing. However according to the Daily Mail, Britain security services believe terrist may already be planning to use different methods to evade detection.

The paper reports a new Al Qaeda terror threat comes from suicide 'body bombers' with explosives surgically inserted inside them. Until now, terrorists have attacked airlines, subway trains and buses by secreting bombs in bags, shoes or underwear to avoid detection. But an operation by MI5 has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda is planning a new stage in its terror campaign by inserting 'surgical bombs' inside people for the first time. It is understood MI5 became aware of the threat after observing increasingly vocal internet 'chatter' on Arab websites this year [Telegraph blog].

The increased concern may bring about even more intrusive checks of passengers some reports warn. According to the London Times, French anti-terrorism officials may recommend using inspection techniques reserved for drug mules to catch this new threat to aviation security [Homeland Security Newswire].

Even before the failed December attack there were worries that terrorists might resort to methods usually employed by drug smugglers. CBS reported in September last year how one attacker used just such a method.

Abdullah Asieri, one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted men, avoided detection by two sets of airport security including metal detectors and palace security as he set out to kill Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia's counter terrorism operations, last year . He spent 30 hours in the close company of the prince's own secret service agents but the threat was undetected because Asieri had the half a kilo of high explosives, plus a detonator inserted in his rectum. When detonated the blast left the prince only lightly wounded. It was a failure as an assassination, but as an exercise in defeating security, it was perfect. 

As such the so-called Trojan bombers represent an almost unstoppable threat. "This is the nightmare scenario," says Chris Yates, an aviation security consultant. On a plane at altitude, the effects of such a bomb could be catastrophic. And there is no current security system that could stop it. "Absolutely nothing other than to require people to strip naked at the airport," says Yates. Even then, a bomb hidden inside the body would not be evident.

Despite the fact new body scanners would only detect weapons or explosives hidden about the body, they have been installed at many airports around the world. Britain has now placed body scanners at Manchester and Heathrow airports and although people would be selected at random, passengers refusing the scan would be barred from flying [BBC]. The scanners come into use just 9 days after Britain's terror threat level was raised from 'substantial' to 'severe', meaning a terrorist attack was "highly likely" [BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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