London: Al Qaida plans to down British airliner

Thursday, August 14, 2003

LONDON The British government has reported an Al Qaida plot to attack British commercial airliners in Saudi Arabia.

The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair said London has received what it termed "credible intelligence" of a serious threat to British aircraft in the Saudi kingdom.

The alert, British officials said, included the prospect that Al Qaida insurgents might fire a missile at a British passenger jet leaving from King Khaled airport in Riyad. The officials said the alert was based on a document found in a Saudi raid on an Al Qaida safe house.

In response, British Airways has suspended flights to Saudi Arabia, Middle East Newsline reported. On Thursday, the London-based Telegraph daily reported that the target of the Al Qaida attack was a British Airways Boeing 777 at Riyad airport.

The British alert is said to have included the prospect that Al Qaida has obtained the SA-7 or the more advanced SA-18 infra-red missiles. The Igla has a range of 5.2 kilometers and is regarded as more accurate than the older model SA-7.

"There is credible intelligence of a serious threat to UK aviation interests in Saudi Arabia," a British government spokesman said on Wednesday.

British special operations forces have raided two homes of a British national, Hemant Lakhani, in London on charges of seeking to supply Al Qaida with the Igla missiles for attacks in the United States. Two other men were also arrested.

Saudi officials reported that an Al Qaida cell has targeted British interests in the Arabian kingdom. But Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said authorities have not received any alert of a plot to bomb or hijack a British plane in Saudi Arabia.

Nayef said seven members of an insurgency cell were captured and 10 others escaped in a Saudi security operation on Tuesday in southern Riyad. But the minister refused to confirm that the cell was planning to attack a British airliner.

"This is groundless," Nayef told the Al Riyad daily on Thursday. "There were no attacks at all [on British interests]."

In Washington, the State Department again warned Americans to avoid travel to Saudi Arabia. The department updated an alert issued in July and reported an increased prospect of attacks against Americans in the kingdom.

"The U.S. government has received indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests, including the targeting of transportation and civil aviation," the department said in a statement on Wednesday. "There is credible information that terrorists have targeted Western aviation interests in Saudi Arabia. American citizens in Saudi Arabia should remain vigilant, particularly in public places."

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