Britain Raises Terror Level After Flaming SUV Rams Airport, Third Attempted Attack

Saturday, June 30th 2007, 3:13 pm
By: News On 6

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) _ Two men rammed a flaming Jeep Cherokee into the main terminal of Glasgow airport Saturday, crashing into the glass doors at the entrance in what appeared to be the third attempted terror attack on Britain in two days, witnesses said.

Hours later, Britain raised its security alert to ``critical'' _ the highest level possible and an indication that terrorist attacks are imminent. U.S. airports increased safety precautions.

Both suspects were arrested at the Glasgow airport, Scotland's largest. One, his body engulfed in flames as police pulled him from the vehicle, was hospitalized.

There were no reports of injuries but the airport was evacuated and all flights suspended, a day after British police thwarted a plot to bomb central London, discovering two cars abandoned with loads of gasoline, gas canisters and nails. Hundreds fled screaming from the terminal as one of the men poured gasoline over the Jeep and tried to force it further inside the terminal, one witness said.

``One has to conclude ... these are linked,'' Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Britain's joint intelligence committee, told Sky News. ``This is a very young government, and we may yet see further attacks.''

Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, a Scot who took office only Wednesday, held a meeting of the government crisis committee, Downing Street said.

A British government security official said the incident was being treated as ``possibly terrorist related at this stage.'' The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Security officials had no direct intelligence linking the incident to the thwarted plot to bomb London but ``are keeping an open mind,'' the official said.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the security would be raised to critical for the first time since August 2006, when authorities uncovered a plot to blow up several trans-Atlantic flights.

``This is in response to the events of the last 48 hours,'' Smith said in a statement.

President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, said some airports in the United States would tighten security in response to the events in Britain but the terror alert status would not change.

``The most you're going to see right now is some inconvenience _ some increased inconvenience of airline passengers, more likely at large airports than small,'' Snow said.

In Glasgow, the green SUV barreled toward the building shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the glass doors, witnesses said. Two men were in the burning vehicle, one of them engulfed in flames, they said.

``The car came speeding past at about 30 mph. It was approaching the building quickly,'' said Scott Leeson, who was nearby. ``Then the driver swerved the car around so he could ram straight in to the door. He must have been trying to smash straight through.''

Lynsey McBean, who was at the terminal, said one of the men took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured its contents under the car. ``He then set light to it,'' said McBean, 26, from Erskine, Scotland. She said the Jeep struck the front door but got jammed.

``They were obviously trying to get it further inside the airport as the wheels were spinning and smoke was coming from them,'' she said.

Two men were arrested, and one of whom was taken to the hospital, Strathclyde Police spokeswoman Lisa O'Neil said in Glasgow. Police said the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in neighboring Paisley, was evacuated after the suspect arrived.

The car hit the building at an angle and poked into the terminal, directly in front of check-in desks, where dozens of passengers were lined up to check in for flights, police said.

Flames and black smoke rose from the vehicle outside the main entrance. Police said it was unclear if anyone was injured. Other passengers were stranded, with at least one airplane grounded on the runway, the BBC said.

Bush was being keep abreast of the events in London and Scotland.

``We're in contact with British authorities on the matter,'' said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

The crash at Glasgow airport comes exactly a week before the second anniversary of the July 7 bombings that killed 52 people.

Leeson said bollards _ security posts outside the entrance _ stopped the driver from barreling into the bustling terminal at Glasgow's airport.

``He's trying to get through the main door frame but the bollards have stopped him from going through. If he'd got through, he'd have killed hundreds, obviously,'' he said.

Two men _ one of them engulfed in flames _ were in the SUV, witnesses said.

Helen Boaden, a BBC News executive who was at the airport at time, said police ``wrestled him to the ground _ the fire was burning through his clothes _ and finally put him out with a fire extinguisher.''

In the London attempt, one car was abandoned outside a nightclub on Haymarket, a busy street of shops, clubs, theaters and restaurants just yards from Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

The other had been towed after being parked illegally on a nearby street and was discovered in an impound lot about a mile away near Hyde Park.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism chief, said the two devices could have caused ``significant injury or loss of life.''

``London on the Edge'' said the front-page headline in The Independent newspaper while the Daily Mail wondered, ``Where's the Next Bomb?''

Mayor Ken Livingstone urged Londoners to remain vigilant.

``The discovery of two potential car bombs in central London, with those responsible still at large, means we face a very real threat of terrorist attack at this moment in time,'' he said.

The Times newspaper reported that police distributed a document to nightclubs two weeks ago warning of the threat from ``vehicle-borne explosive devices'' _ car bombs. The document, prepared by the National Counterterrorism Security Office, took the form of general counterterrorism advice for British clubs.

Intelligence officials were examining a post to an Islamist Web site _ hours before the cars were found _ that suggested Britain would be attacked for awarding a knighthood to the novelist Salman Rushdie and for intervening in Muslim countries.