Europe’s busiest airports boost screening over US fears
PARIS: France on Friday said it is boosting passenger screening at its airports, responding to a request from Washington for extra security for US-bound flights over fears Islamist radicals could be plotting new attacks using hard-to-detect bombs.
The French move, to come into force next Monday and Tuesday, follows similar action already implemented by Britain, and notably impacts Europe’s two busiest hubs, Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle.
Combined, an average 2.5 million passengers a day pass through the two airports.
French and British authorities urged passengers to allow extra time to get past the additional measures, which were not specified but were believed to focus on footwear and electronic items such as mobile phones and computers.
US officials on Wednesday publicly demanded enhanced security for airports in Europe and the Middle East, which have direct US flights. They did not say whether they had intelligence about a specific plot, but their actions suggested alarm.
The request was “based on real-time intelligence,” according to a US Homeland Security Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, the US embassy in Uganda warned of a possible plot targeting Entebbe airport, that serves the capital Kampala, for later that day. But the danger period elapsed without incident.
Western intelligence services are concerned that hundreds of Islamist radicals traveling from Europe to fight in the Middle East could pose a security risk on their return. Most European passport-holders do not need a visa to travel to the United States.
One of the radical organizations, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is of particular concern.
US and other intelligence services believe AQAP is passing on sophisticated bombmaking expertise to militants fighting in Syria for use against Western targets — most prominently, passenger aircraft. “We have long-standing concern about terrorist groups trying to get undetected material onto planes,” a US intelligence official told AFP.
AQAP “is always the group we think about when we talk about undetectable bombs,” the official added.
Brooke Rogers, of the War Studies Department at King’s College London, said that for extremist groups, bringing down an aircraft was the “ultimate prize. If the attackers succeed, it will be spectacular for them.” And “unfortunately in aviation, it doesn’t take a big amount (of explosives) to make a boom,” said US air security expert Jeff Price.