Israel: Al Qaida planned airline suicide attack on Tel Aviv

Thursday, February 19, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel has concluded that Al Qaida sought to stage an airline suicide strike against the Jewish state.

Israeli officials said Al Qaida has been recruiting operatives for flight training in an effort to hijack an airliner. They said the operatives were ordered to crash at least one passenger jet into an Israeli office tower in Tel Aviv.

Maj. Gen. Dan Helutz, commander of the Israel Air Force, said Al Qaida sought to have hijacked an airliner leaving from Saudi Arabia. Officials quoted Helutz as saying that Saudi authorities foiled this plan and arrested several suspects.

Officials said Al Qaida has been trying to carry out such an attack for more than 18 months. They said this has led the Israel Air Force and civilian authorities to impose new regulations that would allow Israeli fighter-jets to intercept or down any suspicious aircraft that approaches Israeli air space.

[On Monday, the British Foreign Office warned of an imminent attack by Al Qaida, Middle East Newsline reported. "We believe that terrorists remain determined to carry out further attacks in Saudi Arabia," a Foreign Office statement in London said. "These may be in the final stages of preparation."]

In December 2003, British officials reported that Saudi authorities arrested two pilots who had planned to crash light planes into a Western passenger jet. The officials were quoted as saying that Saudi security forces found two light aircraft filled with explosives near Riyad International Airport.

Since then, Israeli officials said, there has not been concrete information of an Al Qaida plot to strike Israel by air. But in a closed forum Helutz said the air force and civilian authorities would have to maintain a high state of alert and adopt unspecified measures.

In September 2003, Israeli Chief of General Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon warned that Al Qaida could recruit Saudi F-15 fighter-jet pilots to carry out a suicide strike in Israel. The intelligence services of Israel and the United States have assessed that Al Qaida has infiltrated the Saudi military.

Saudi Arabia has denied that it foiled an Al Qaida hijacking attempt of an airliner for a suicide attack against Israel. An official at the Saudi Defense Ministry denied such a plot or that anybody was arrested.

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