Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Air security concerns raised after attack & threats

A bomb blast at a Moscow airport and a hi-jack threat over British airspace has raised concerns that threats still exist for air travellers and that the so-called War on Terror still exists.

On Monday afternoon an explosion ripped through Moscow's Domodedovo airport, the busiest in the Russian capital, killing at least 35 people. Some 170 people were injured in the blast, which reports suggested was the work of a suicide bomber.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to track down and punish those behind an apparent suicide bomb attack which is being blamed on militants from Russia's restive North Caucasus region.

Last March the Russian capital's underground system was rocked by two female suicide bombers from Russia's volatile Dagestan region, who detonated their explosives on the busy metro system during rush hour, killing 40 people and injuring more than 80.

Amongst those who died in Monday's attack were two Britons, though their identities were not immediately released [BBC].

Meanwhile in the skies over Britain jets were scrambled after a passenger on board an Etihad flight bound for London's Heathrow Airport made undisclosed threats to the aircraft.

The Airbus was redirected to Stansted Airport and two RAF Typhoon jets were deployed to accompany the airliner.

Flight EY19 landed shortly before midday and a 37 year old British national was arrested according to Essex police. Passengers on board the plane which was travelling from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow gave various accounts of what occurred during the flight.

A source at the airport said, "We are hearing all sorts of things but it sounds as though the passenger has said something to a woman on board and it's all kicked off. It must have been bad for this to have happened though. There's lots of different stories going around." According to one passenger the man had been "very drunk and was making a scene."

The Ministry of Defence confirmed the deployment of Typhoon aircraft to escort the passenger aircraft but gave few other details.

A planespotter at Stansted described the incident as dramatic. "I've never seen anything like that in all the years I've been spotting planes here," Ted Underhill said. "It just flew in with a fighter, which I think was Typhoon. The fighter spent a few minutes circling over the airfield, it was quite low as the plane landed, then went up and circled round a few times and then someone must have given the all clear to go," he told reporters. "I've heard there was second fighter but I didn't see it. The landing looked quite normal to me. I assumed there had been some sort of terrorist incident or some sort of trouble onboard."

In recent weeks, the UK raised the security threat level for the country's transport hubs to "severe" from "substantial". It highlights the mounting concern over a possible terrorist attack in Europe.

The threat level of "severe" is deemed as meaning that an attack is highly likely, and is one below the highest level, "critical," which means there is intelligence of an imminent threat.

Several of the UK's security chiefs recently have warned about the ongoing threat from terrorists. In November, the head of London's Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, said in a speech that the UK faces its most dangerous stretch in the fight against terrorism since two failed attacks in the summer of 2007 [BBC / Telegraph / WSJ / Daily Mail].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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