WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, released the following statement on the airline bombing plot that was reportedly foiled by British authorities and the subsequent raising of the terror threat level to Code Red:

“As the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, we are once again reminded that passenger airplanes remain at the top of Al Qaeda’s terrorist target list.  It appears that British authorities have foiled a plot that could have killed thousands using passenger airplanes and explosives.  While this terrorist plan may have been thwarted, I still am gravely concerned about gaping aviation security loopholes that continue to put passengers and crew members at risk. 

“The explosion of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 was caused by undetected plastic explosives in a bag placed on the airplane without a passenger, yet, most of the billions of pounds of commercial cargo carried on passenger planes every year is loaded onboard without being screened for liquid, plastic, or conventional explosives.  Known terrorists can still board planes in Europe headed for the U.S. because the Department of Homeland Security still checks the master terrorist watch list only after the flight takes off, not before. And the security lines today will be endless in part because the Republican Congress has put an arbitrary cap on the number of security screeners at U.S. airports, stretching thin the ability of TSA to scrutinize baggage for explosives without slowing down lines at checkpoints.

“The need to address this liquid explosives problem is over ten years old, and was spelled out in chilling detail by Abdul Hakim Murad in a 1996 confession.  He detailed an alleged plot to join the other two men in blowing up a dozen U.S. jumbo jetliners carrying 4,000 people in January 1995, a plan code-named ‘Bojinga.’

“While we are fortunate that today’s attack appears to have been stopped by vigilant British authorities, today’s announcement should be yet another wake-up call to the Bush Administration to rapidly close the glaring loopholes that persist almost 5 years after 9/11.”

Here is an excerpt from an account of the 1996 plot according to the Washington Post account by R. Jeffrey Smith (Sunday, July 21 1996; Page A01):

“This is . . . the best thing. I enjoy it," Murad admitted to a Pakistani interrogator last year when asked why he wanted to kill so many Americans, according to a transcript read in court on Thursday. He went on to explain that "the United States is the first country in this world making trouble for . . . Muslims and for our people." He said that is why he was prepared to help put 12 bombs on U.S. aircraft that would blow up over the ocean in a two-day reign of terror meant to provoke an end to U.S. support for Israel. The impressive workings of the bombs these men were making for that purpose are spelled out in Murad's confession and in documents retrieved from the hard drive of a portable computer allegedly owned by Yousef, which he inadvertently left behind in a Manila apartment where police showed up to investigate a fire caused by the mixture of some of the chemicals. Murad made clear that their intent in designing the devices was to ensure they could be readily slipped past airport screening devices and assembled in the washrooms of the planes once the flights were underway.  At the heart of each device was a timer built by rewiring a commonly available Casio digital watch, which could be connected to a stabilized form of liquid nitroglycerin stored in a bottle ostensibly filled with contact lens solution. The stabilizer for the nitroglycerin looked like cotton, and Murad told interrogators that "nobody can think that it's ... explosive."

“Murad said that even if the liquid nitroglycerin is put "in the X-ray, you will never" detect it, which several U.S. airplane security experts say is true. Even newer screening devices that can see through clothes would have difficulty ferreting out such a substance, according to these experts.

“Once the liquid was assembled with two small, 9-volt batteries and a detonating material that the men planned to conceal in their shoes, the bombs were to be hidden under aircraft seats. When the planes landed at the next stop, the men were to disembark. The planes would "never reach their [next] destinations" because the bombs were to detonate when the watch alarms went off, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia. Thousands of passengers would have died, Garcia said.”

August 10, 2006

CONTACT: Israel Klein