A UK-based terrorist cell was in the “well-advanced” stages of plotting to detonate liquid explosives disguised as beverages on board “multiple” aircraft bound for the USA from the UK when the plan was thwarted by UK authorities.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington DC today, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief Michael Chertoff said the foiled plot involved carrying liquid explosives and detonation devices on board transatlantic flights from the UK.

He says the plan is “suggestive of an Al Qaeda plot”, adding that the plotters had “accumulated all capabilities” needed to carry out the attack and were in the “final stages of planning the execution”.

The US Government has now banned passengers from carrying liquids and gels on board aircraft, with the exception of baby formula and essential medicines, which must be checked by security screeners.

“We are taking this step to give time to make adjustments in our current screening practices,” says Chertoff. He adds that the US Transportation Security Administration will implement “a series of additional security measures”, including sending US Federal Air Marshals to the UK to provide expanded coverage on flights between the UK and the USA.

“Today air transport is safe and will remain safe because of the measures taken today,” notes the DHS chief. He adds that it was “only in the last few weeks” that the investigation discovered the threat related specifically to US-bound flights.

US attorney general Alberto Gonzalez says the plan was hatched by “terrorist cells based in the UK”, and that the 21 suspects arrested overnight “had taken steps to carry out the plot”.

US Customs and Border Protection agents will also step up security measures in international arrival areas, including increased use of explosives detection technology, canine units and special response teams.

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Source: Flight International