Sabotage Plots That Have Changed Procedures

The Shoe Bomber
22 December 2001

Richard Reid, a British citizen who had received training from Al Qaeda, attempted to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami, using explosives hidden in a bulky shoe. The attempt failed because his suspicious behaviour in the cabin, while trying to activate the detonator, prompted passengers and crew to overpower and immobilise him.

This led to the introduction of passenger footwear scanning.


Liquids plot
9 August 2006

The British police, acting on intelligence about a number of young men who had been under covert surveillance for some time, simultaneously raided a number of UK addresses and arrested 25 suspects, many of whom were later convicted of various degrees of terrorist activity, including conspiracy to murder. Their intention had been to carry the separate liquid chemical components of an improvised explosive compound on to 10 or so US and Canadian flights, using branded soft drinks bottles as containers, and to mix them on board to create bombs.

This resulted in an immediate ban on the carriage of any liquids or gels in hand baggage by passengers. The rule was later modified to restrict the carriage of liquids to a small number of containers, none of which should exceed 100ml in capacity.

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Underpants bomber
25 December 2009

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student, boarded a Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 scheduled departure for Detroit with pads of explosive material sewn into his underpants. He spent some time in one of the toilets shortly before arrival at Detroit, working to achieve the chemical combination that could be detonated. On returning to his seat, he covered himself with a blanket and attempted detonation, but it resulted in fire rather than explosion. Cabin crew extinguished the fire and he was immobilised.

The result has been a continuing attempt to devise an acceptable means of whole-body scanning for passengers.




Glasgow (Scotland) airport attack
30 June 2007

Two men attempted to drive a Jeep Cherokee carrying propane gas and petrol canisters into Glasgow airport terminal building and detonate it, but the vehicle foundered on concrete bollards intended to prevent such an attack and barely penetrated the terminal.

Since then, the vehicular approaches to airport terminals in the UK have been - or are being - radically redesigned, with set-down and pick-up areas separated by greater distance and physical obstructions from the building.


Cargo sabotage attempt
29 October 2010

Saudi Arabian intelligence information passed to the US authorities led to two cargo aircraft having their consignments specially checked, one at the UK's East Midlands airport, another at Dubai. In both cases, plastic explosive had been packed into toner cartridges in printers, consigned from Yemen to destinations in the USA. They were rendered harmless by specialists who had been briefed on what to look for.

Since then, existing cargo security arrangements have been tightened, with particular regard to cargo originating in unstable countries such as Yemen.

Flight International 6 Sept 2011

What has changed in the aviation world since the World Trade Center was destroyed by a terrorist attack 10 years ago?

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  Direct reactions to 9/11
Hardened cockpit doors locked throughout flight (universal)
New flightcrew and cabin crew onboard drills in the event of hijack (universal)
Armed air marshals (USA)
Armed pilots (USA)
Advance passenger details notification to security agencies
Air traffic control: upgraded military reaction to unidentified or no communicating aircraft
  Changes not directly related to 9/11
Improved landside protection for airport terminals
Universal checked baggage scanning
Improved cargo screening
Restrictions on passenger carry-on liquid containers
Shoe scanning
Improved levels of screening/vetting for all personel who work airside
Improved passenger identification drills
  Proposed or under trial
Outcomes-based security requirements (UK/Europe consultation on defining the security objective, then giving security providers more flexibility in how they achieve it)
Whole-body scanners
Technology companies’ proposal under development: integrated single point walk-through passenger and hand baggage identification and scanning