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Home Secretary updates Parliament on airline bomb plot

Theresa May has told the House of Commons that all aspects of air freight security will now be reviewed.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Home Secretary has updated the House of Commons on UK aviation security, following the recent airline bomb plot.

She said: ‘With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the recent airline bomb plot.

‘The House will know that in the early hours of Friday morning, following information from intelligence sources, the police identified a suspect package on board a UPS courier aircraft which had landed at East Midlands Airport en route from Cologne to Chicago.

Explosive material

‘Later during the morning police explosives experts identified that the device contained explosive material. A similar device was located and identified in Dubai. It was being transported by Fedex to Chicago.

‘Since then an intensive investigation has been taking place in this country and overseas. COBR met on Friday to assess progress. I chaired a COBR meeting on Saturday. The Prime Minister chaired a further COBR meeting this morning.

‘The House will appreciate that much of this investigation is sensitive and the information I can give is necessarily limited. Disclosure of some details could prejudice the investigation, the prospects of bringing the perpetrators to justice, our national security and the security of our allies. But I want to give the House as full a picture as possible.

Devices from Yemen

‘We know that both explosive devices originated in Yemen. We believe that they were made and dispatched by the organization known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This group, which is based in Yemen, was responsible for the attempted downing of an aircraft bound for Detroit on 25 December last year.

‘The devices were probably intended to detonate mid-air and to destroy the cargo aircraft on which they were being transported. Our own analysis of the device here - analysis which has to proceed with great care to preserve the evidential value of the recovered material - established by Saturday morning that it was viable: this means not only that it contained explosive material but that it could have detonated.

‘Had the device detonated we assess it could have succeeded in bringing down the aircraft.    

‘Our forensic examination of the device continues. We are receiving valuable assistance from a wide range of partners. The analysis has some way to go.

‘At this stage we have no information to suggest that another attack of a similar type by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is imminent. But this organisation is very active. During this year it has repeatedly attacked targets in Yemen. On 26 April and 6 October it attacked and attempted to kill British diplomats based in San’aa. It continues to plan other attacks in the region, notably against Saudi Arabia.

‘We therefore work on the assumption that this organization will wish to continue to find ways of also attacking targets further afield.

Working with international partners

‘We will continue to work with international partners to deal with this threat. We have for some years provided assistance to the Yemeni Government and will continue to do so. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Saleh to make clear our desire for a closer security relationship.

‘Following the Detroit incident, ministers in the last government took the decision to stop all direct passenger and cargo aircraft flying from Yemen to and through the UK.

‘Over the weekend we took the further step of stopping all unaccompanied air freight to this country from Yemen. This will include air freight from Yemen carried on both courier flights and hold loaded in passenger aircraft.    

‘The small number of items in transit prior to this direction have been subject to rigorous investigation on arrival in the UK, and no further suspicious items have been discovered.

Further steps

‘We are now taking further steps to maintain our security. And I can confirm to the House that:

  • We will review all aspects of air freight security and work with international partners to make sure that our defences are as robust as possible
  • We will update the guidance given to airport security personnel based on what we have learned to enable them to identify similar packages in future
  • From midnight tonight, we will extend the suspension of unaccompanied air freight to this country not just from Yemen but also Somalia.  This decision has been made as a precautionary measure and it will be reviewed in the coming weeks. It is based on possible contact between al-Qaeda in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia, as well as concern about airport security in Mogadishu
  • From midnight tonight, we will suspend the carriage of toner cartridges larger than 500g in passengers’ hand baggage on flights departing from UK airport
  • Also from midnight tonight, we will prohibit the carriage of these items by air cargo into, via or from the UK unless they originate from a known consignor - a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department for Transport

‘We intend that these final two measures will be in place initially for one month.

‘During that time, we will work closely with the aviation industry, screening equipment manufacturers and others, to devise a sustainable, proportionate, long-term security regime to address the threat.  Department for Transport officials are already in technical discussions with the industry, and my Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will chair a high-level industry meeting later this week to discuss next steps.

‘These initiatives are in addition to those which we have set out in the Strategic Defence and Security ReviewWe are already committed to widening checks on visa applicants to this country.

Pre-departure checks

‘Following the Detroit incident we are also committed to making changes to pre-departure checks to identify better the people who pose a terrorist threat and to prevent them flying to the UK.

‘We are committed to enhancing our e-borders programme which provides data on who is travelling to this country and is therefore an essential foundation for our counter-terrorist and wider security work. We have an increasingly active and important border co-operation programme with counter parts in the USA.

‘The Detroit incident led to the introduction of further passenger scanning devices at key airports in the UK. 

‘COBR will continue to meet through this week. The National Security Council will consider also this issue.  We will continue to work closely with our partners overseas.

‘Finally, the House will wish to join me in expressing gratitude to the police and the security and intelligence agencies in this country for the work they are doing to understand the threat we face and to deal with it so effectively.’


Published 1 November 2010