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Homeland Security Warns Airlines About Possible Hijackings

Aired July 29, 2003 - 19:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Moving on now, a chilling warning tonight from the Department of Homeland Security aimed at the airline industry.
Now, the agency says intelligence indicates the potential -- and we do say potential -- for future airplane hijackings, possibly within weeks.

CNN's homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, with more now on the newest warning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There has not been a domestic hijacking since 9/11. But the government says Islamic extremists could be planning others before the end of the summer in the U.S. or against U.S. interests abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're a determined foe, and they're going to try to do everything they can to defeat the systems we put in place.

MESERVE: A Department of Homeland Security advisory sent to the aviation community says, "Attack venues may include the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia or the east coast of the United States, due to the relatively high concentration of government, military and economic targets."

But the hijackers may use flights that transit through the target countries to avoid the need for visas. That the plan may involve the use of five-man teams that would attempt to seize control of an aircraft near takeoff or landing. That would preclude the need for flight trained hijackers.

That the hijackers could try to calm passengers and make them believe they are on a hostage, not suicide mission. And that the hijackers may attempt to use items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons.

The information was gleaned over the last several weeks from interrogations of high level al Qaeda detainees and electronic intercepts, sources say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The advisory was sent out so that the appropriate security personnel can be informed and take necessary steps and they will take the appropriate steps. MESERVE: The State Department issued a worldwide caution late Monday citing the hijacking threat. And officials will decide this week whether to stop hitting passengers transit through the U.S. without a visa.

Since 9/11 much money and effort has been spent on aviation security, including the installation of bullet proof doors, the federalization of passenger and baggage screening and the deployment of thousands of air marshals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main reason I think that they would attack an airline it's something they know to do and it -- it's dramatic. The reasons that they may not include the fact that there's been much greater security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: One official ranks the credibility of the intelligence as a six or seven on a scale of ten, but there is no plan to raise the terror threat level, in part because no equipment or operatives are known to have been deployed to carry out the plans -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks for the report.

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