WASHINGTON: US officials have warned airlines terror groups may be mulling implanting bombs under the skins of passengers, reports said Wednesday, but stressed the alert was not linked to any specific threat.
The Los Angeles Times said the US administration had warned airlines that extremist groups were considering surgically implanting explosives into people to try to beat enhanced airport security measures.
Passengers flying to the United States could now face even tougher screening procedures, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, Nicholas Kimball, told the daily.
“These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same activity at every international airport,” Kimball said, adding existing methods could not detect plastic explosives under the skin.
The TSA confirmed in a statement that it “recently briefed air carriers and foreign partners to provide greater insights into recent intelligence indicating the continued interest of terrorists to target aviation.”
Terrorist groups have repeatedly and publicly indicated interest in pursuing ways to further conceal explosives,” the statement added, without confirming the scheme to implant explosives.
A US security official, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “This is new intelligence about a possible technique that could be used; however there is nothing to indicate an imminent threat.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that officials from Homeland Security and the TSA had been in contact with airlines.
“The action they took in briefing air carriers and foreign partners to provide greater insights into recent intelligence indicating continued interest of terrorists to target aviation did not relate to an imminent or specific threat,” he said.
“Terrorist groups have repeatedly and publicly indicated interest in pursuing ways to further conceal explosives and we continue to evolve just as the threat does,” he added.
“In other words, this is the idea that terrorists have been looking for other ways to circumvent security measures in order to target aircraft. It's not at all surprising.”
American Airlines and US Airways have refused to comment.
But security at US airports has been ramped up over the past decade since al Qaeda militants hijacked four US planes on September 11, 2001 and plowed two of them into the World Trade Center in New York.
A third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, and the fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field after the passengers overcame the hijackers.
There have been several attempts to blow up US-bound airlines, including on Christmas Day 2009 when a Nigerian man was arrested for allegedly carrying plastics explosives stitched into his underwear which he planned to ignite on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on terror charges is set to begin in October.