Concerns over bomb threats prompt increased security at U.S. airports
The United States said on Wednesday it would increase security at overseas airports with nonstop flights to the country, and U.S. officials cited concerns al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen were developing bombs that could be smuggled onto planes.
The new security measures would be required at airports in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that have direct flights, the U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The Department of Homeland Security said “enhanced security measures” would be implemented in the next few days at “certain overseas airports with direct flights into the United States.”
It did not specify which airports or what countries would be affected, nor did it say what triggered the extra precautions.
“We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson said he directed the Transportation Security Administration to implement the measures in the coming days. The move comes during the summer travel season and days before the July 4 holiday.
A U.S. official told Reuters some of the new measures would involve additional inspections of passengers’ shoes and property.
The official said Washington had legal authority to enforce new security requirements on foreign governments or airports because the flights go directly to the United States.
Asked about the enhanced security steps in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday night, Johnson said: “We continually evaluate the world situation and we not infrequently make changes to aviation security. We either step it up or we feel sometimes we’re in a position to dial it back.
“So this is something that happens periodically and people should not overreact to it or overspeculate about what’s going on,” he said.
Adding there is “a terrorist threat to this country that remains,” Johnson said: “We continually evaluate the world situation and if we think that there are improvements that we can and should make without unnecessarily disrupting the traveling public, we’ll do that.”
Earlier, law enforcement and security officials told Reuters the United States and European authorities were discussing measures that could include installation of additional bomb-detection machines.
Bombmakers from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are believed to be working together to try to develop explosives that could avoid detection by current airport screening systems, U.S. national security sources said.
The main concern is that militant groups could try to blow up U.S.- or Europe-bound planes by concealing bombs on foreign fighters carrying Western passports who spent time with Islamist rebel factions in the region, the sources said.