- U.S. NEWS
- JULY 6, 2011, 12:51 P.M. ET
U.S. Warns Airlines on Human Bomb Implants
Militants from al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen are mulling plans to surgically implant explosive devices in would-be suicide bombers, possibly targeting airlines, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
That intelligence about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the group’s most dangerous affiliate, led the Obama administration to warn foreign governments and American and international airline executives over the past several days that terrorists might attempt to board planes with explosives concealed in their bodies.
“It’s more than aspirational,” a U.S. official said. “They’re trying to make this happen.”
The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t warned of a specific plot, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. But the specter of militants carrying bombs within them will prompt additional security measures at U.S. airports and overseas airports serving U.S. destinations, the Transportation Security Administration said in a written release.
Mr. Carney said terrorists have repeatedly expressed interest in trying new techniques to conceal explosives.
“That fact that terrorists are interested in finding ways to attack us is pretty much self-evident,” Mr. Carney said. “Our security procedures are multifaceted, and we adjust them according to the threat all the time.”
U.S. officials have become increasingly worried about plots emanating from Yemen, where a popular uprising against the country’s authoritarian leader and tribal clashes have created a security vacuum in which al Qaeda can operate more freely.
The U.S. official said that the administration isn’t aware of an imminent plot involving implanted bombs, but the effort represents the next generation of plans following the botched attempt by al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate on Christmas Day 2009 to down a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb sewn into the bomber’s underwear.
In recent years, the TSA has added hundreds of new full-body screening machines to scores of airports to complement metal detectors and help detect hard-to-find items that could pose a security threat.
However, the new scanners wouldn’t be able to identify explosive devices implanted inside a body, which has prompted many security experts to push for alternative security measures, including profiling a passenger’s behavior and demeanor to identify potential security risks.
“What technology can we use? The simple answer is the human brain—that’s the only way to address the threat,” said Philip Baum, founder of Green Light Limited, an aviation-security consultancy in London. Given that drug smugglers have implanted contraband for years, he said he is surprised that terrorists haven’t yet tried to do the same with explosives.
Despite initial speculation that an al Qaeda terrorist used implanted explosives in a failed bid to assassinate a key Saudi Arabian minister in the summer of 2009, U.S. security officials concluded that the explosive device was hidden in the man’s underwear—exactly the same technique used four months later in the Detroit plot.