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Airline alert over gadget threat

From CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve

Electronic devices like cell phones, cameras and boom boxes will be targeted.
Electronic devices like cell phones, cameras and boom boxes will be targeted.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials are preparing a warning to airlines alerting them to watch out for travelers carrying electronic devices that may be carrying small weapons or bombs.

Homeland Security officials told CNN Monday they will warn the aviation industry, federal screeners and local authorities to keep an eye on remote key locks, certain brands and models of cell phones, audio devices and cameras.

The warning, which is due Tuesday, follows raids of al Qaeda safe houses which turned up evidence the group is trying to modify electronic devices to carry small weapons or explosives, administration officials told CNN.

A camera flash was found being modified to convert to, or carry, a stun gun, the officials said.

The discoveries in those hideouts triggered a decision last week to warn airlines of possible hijackings.

"The hijackers may attempt to use common items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons," it said.

A Homeland Security official said the new advisory would clarify that information and is not based on more recent intelligence.

One airport official, who did not want to be identified, said the new advisory could lead to more delays at checkpoints in the busiest time of the year for airlines.

The X-ray machines currently in use cannot identify explosives so screeners might be used to swab electronics for explosive residue. Suspicious items could also be scanned through more sophisticated machines, the official added.

Although last week's warning related to U.S. travelers who set off metal detectors or were selected for random screening, it was aimed primarily at those transiting through the United States without a visa.

The U.S. administration has since suspended two programs that allow some non-U.S. citizens to travel through America without a visa. (Programs suspended)

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Sunday authorities may add "enhanced security measures" for arriving passengers who are citizens of so-called "visa-waiver countries."

This includes many countries in Western Europe.

The measures under consideration, he said, include "subjecting these individuals and their baggage to far more rigorous screening than ever before."

"We're going to have an entry-exit system based on a machine-readable passport, so we'll be able to verify and validate they are who they claim to be," Ridge said.

One Homeland Security official said Monday the new advisory should not discourage Americans from flying, saying they now know what al Qaeda is working on and it is taking steps to reduce the risk.

From that perspective, the official said, flying is now safer than before.

Over the weekend, an audiotape purported to be from a top deputy to Osama bin Laden was broadcast by the Dubai-based Arabic-language network Al Arabiya, threatening that the United States and its allies will pay a "very high price" if any of the men held at Guantanamo Bay are harmed.

A CIA technical analysis found the voice on the tape is "most likely" that of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a CIA official said Monday. (Tape analyzed)

Investigators believe al-Zawahiri played an important role in the attacks of September 11, 2001. And the threats on the tape referred to attacks by al Qaeda.

"We are saying to America one thing: What you saw with your eyes so far are only the first tactics we are using. The real battle didn't start yet." (Tape threat)

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