Responding to a heightened terrorism alert in the United States, Britain said Sunday it had tightened security for trans-Atlantic flights and suggested it might put armed sky marshals on some planes, following the lead of allies like the United States and Israel.
While the statement is the first confirmation that Britain has stepped up security in response to the Code Orange alert in America, it stopped short of saying sky marshals will definitely be used.
“The last few days have seen the United States increase their general threat and security levels, and what we are proposing is a proportionate and appropriate level of response at a time when the threat to both our countries and around the world remains real and serious,” Home Secretary David Blunkett, Britain’s top law enforcement official, said in a statement.
Britain announced in December last year that it was training undercover armed police officers to act as sky marshals and would use them “where and when we believed it necessary.”
Also in December last year, a government-commissioned report recommended that marshals be placed first on trans-Atlantic flights. If that proved successful, the program should be extended to most flights, said the report by former Conservative Party lawmaker Sir John Wheeler.
Details still unclear
The government refused to say Sunday whether sky marshals had already been used on British airlines, or whether the heightened terror alert in the United States increased the likelihood of them being used now on trans-Atlantic flights.
A statement released by the Home Office and the Department of Transport said airline security was kept under constant review.
It said security measures — including screening and searching passengers at airports, protecting aircraft on the ground, boosting security of the cockpit and the use of sky marshals — were adjusted “as and when necessary.”
“In response to the present heightened state of alert in the U.S.A., additional security measures on the ground and in the air have been put in place for U.K. airlines operations (to and from) the U.S.A.,” said the statement. “This is judged a responsible and prudent step at the present time, but the continuing need for these measures will be kept under review. Sky marshals will be deployed where appropriate.”
The U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Dec. 21 warning raised the national alert to its second-highest level, Code Orange. According to American officials, the warning focused on the threat from foreign commercial airliners.
The government said Britain’s police and security services were already doing everything possible to ensure Britons’ safety here and abroad.
Renewed attention on airline security
Aviation security has been the subject of renewed attention worldwide since the United States raised its alert level.
Australia said Thursday that armed sky marshals would guard some Qantas flights between Australia and Singapore and may be put on flights to the United States. Australia has posted armed undercover security officers randomly on domestic flights since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Air France canceled six flights between Paris and Los Angeles on Wednesday and Thursday following security discussions between U.S. and French officials.
After the cancellations, French investigators questioned seven men pointed out by U.S. intelligence but found no evidence they planned to use a Los Angeles-bound jet to launch terror attacks against the United States, French authorities said.
Officials say British aviation security has been high since the Sept. 11 attacks by Osama bin Laden’s terror network.
In February, troops and tanks were deployed at Heathrow Airport after police warned that al-Qaida might try attacking the British capital.