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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

British Authorities Thwart Alleged Sky Terror Plot; Airports on Alert; Terror in a Bottle

Aired August 10, 2006 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, standing by and standing outside an airport that authorities say would have been the jumping- off point, the point of departure, they believe, for a plot both sinister and deadly enough to rival 9/11.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Ten flights, thousands of passenger, one plan to obliterate them at all, how was it stopped? Is al Qaeda involved? Is a second plot still under way? All the angles.

Message in a bottle -- explosive ingredients disguised as Gatorade, or makeup, or shampoo, turned into a deadly cocktail on board, is it a security gap big enough to get a bomb through?

Airports on alert -- long lines, new rules. Leave the bottles and drop the makeup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think you can blow up a plane with blush.

ANNOUNCER: But no one's taking chances. We will show you how to cope.

And new hope in the Middle East, but deadly new fighting, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Sky Terror."

Reporting tonight from London, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And thanks for joining us.

We're coming to you from London's Heathrow International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, a very tense location tonight, a terrifying plot in -- interrupted, police here say.

But some of the alleged plotters, including the suspected ringleader, are still out there -- all the angles tonight on the suspects, at least 24 now in custody, on their ties to radical Islam, and possibly links with al Qaeda. We will look at how the plot was supposed to unfold, bombs disguised as bottled drinks on as many as 10 flights bound for -- from Britain to the United States, simultaneous explosions, mass murder, say authorities. Also, back at home, lines at airports, stepped-up security, parts of the U.S. commercial aviation system at threat level red for the first time in history -- everything we're seeing tells us this is serious. And it is not over yet.

We're covering this on both sides of the Atlantic.

We will start in London with the manhunt and CNN's Deborah Feyerick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police went house to house, continuing the search in London, the industrial city of Birmingham to the north, and the Thames Valley to the west.

British officials weren't saying much about the people arrested, but they believe they have the key players. Sources familiar with the investigation say, as many as 50 people could be involved.

PAUL STEPHENSON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, METROPOLITAN POLICE: We cannot stress too highly the severity that this plot represented. Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

FEYERICK: Sources close to the investigation say two of the suspects had already recorded so-called martyr tapes to be released after the alleged attacks.

U.S. sources say, nearly all of those arrested are British, some of Pakistani descent. Sources say, two of the suspects recently traveled to Pakistan and met with an al Qaeda operative. Later, they allegedly received money wired from there.

And Pakistan officials say an Islamic militant arrested near the Afghan-Pakistan border several weeks ago provided a lead that played a role in -- quote -- "unearthing the plot." They also say, information from Pakistan helped convince the British to act now.

U.S. government officials told CNN, the British had their own source from the inside, an undercover agent who had infiltrated the group, and was able to provide specific information on when to move in.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: Had this plot been carried out, the loss of life to innocent civilians would have been on an unprecedented scale.

FEYERICK: British media is reporting that one of the suspects was a Muslim charity worker. Another worked at Heathrow Airport and had all-access security clearance there.

The alleged plot, according to the British, was to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 airplanes flying from Heathrow to the United States, using potentially explosive liquids and other materials in carry-on luggage. U.S. sources say, the alleged plot was in its final stages, maybe days away. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, Deb -- Deb, we are being told this is ongoing investigation. What -- what are the -- what is the next step for authorities?

FEYERICK: Well, Anderson, British authorities do say that this is the first phase in what is a very, very fast-moving investigation.

What they do say that is that this operation was highly sophisticated, highly coordinated, and has international implications. But British authorities really have to be very careful about what it is they say. The laws here are different. And they don't want to release too much information that could ultimately blow their case -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Deborah Feyerick, thanks.

As you heard Deb say, the investigation we learned about this morning has, in fact, been going on for months now. Even now, it is safe to say, we're only seeing, really, the tip of the iceberg. There are informants to protect, intelligence to safeguard, operations, as Deb said, still under way.

Still, what we have seen is some tip and apparently some iceberg. Here's a closer look at how it came into view, minute by minute, today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: 10:30 p.m. local time last night: East Londoners saw about 20 officers burst into a small, rundown apartment building. It would be one of many overnight raids around London, netting some two dozen suspects.

2:00 a.m.: Britain's Joint Terror Analysis Center raised the threat to critical, meaning a likelihood of imminent terrorist attack. Through the night, London airports made preparations for unprecedented security measures. At daybreak in the U.K., this is the news Britons awoke to.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: The police, acting with the security service MI5, are investigating an alleged plot to bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life.

COOPER: As morning evolved, details of the fearsome plot began to emerge.

PAUL STEPHENSON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, METROPOLITAN POLICE: We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder.

COOPER: British authorities said, the investigation had been going on for months, but came to a head Wednesday night. PETER CLARKE, HEAD OF ANTI-TERRORISM BRANCH, SCOTLAND YARD: The decision was made to take urgent action in order to disrupt what we believe was being planned.

COOPER: Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, had briefed President Bush this past weekend, and, at about 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, called to tell him something was imminent and it was time to take action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Just a few hours ago, in fact, a series of arrests were made in that...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: This morning, this is the news Americans woke up to.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The terrorists planned to carry the components of the bombs, including liquid explosive ingredients and detonating devices, disguised as beverages, electronic devices, or other common objects.

COOPER: By afternoon, airports in both countries were ensnarled by delays and flight cancellations...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lip gloss has to go.

COOPER: ... and new security measures, the most restrictive ever.

TONY DOUGLAS, CEO, HEATHROW AIRPORT: I would stress for passengers to be prepared for the following restrictions and the likelihood of a long wait.

COOPER: A little before noon, Eastern time, today, President Bush spoke from the tarmac in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.

COOPER: As dusk fell on London, British authorities were carrying out more raids across London and elsewhere.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, the news that two of the men in custody met with an alleged al Qaeda operative certainly raises a chill -- just as scary, though, the fact that, while the vast majority of the British Muslims are law-abiding citizens, of course, the country is also fighting a battle against homegrown Islamic terrorism, and they are taking casualties.

More on that now from CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the benefit of hindsight, the path to this thwarted plot is clear.

Just 13 months ago, four bombs struck London, all on subways and buses. They left 52 dead and hundreds injured. That attack may point the way to what's happening now. What they learned then may also help investigators, as they seek to unravel an al Qaeda connection.

Is this a case of homegrown terror? The July 7 London subway bombers were British-born. That sent shivers through the country -- homegrown terror, it was said, not the work of al Qaeda, but sympathizers.

But the truth turns out to be different. A recent video from al Qaeda reveals, two of the subway bombers not only went to Pakistan, but actually received explosives training and direction from al Qaeda's senior-most leaders.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM EXPERT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY: British authorities have indicated that the bombs used in the operation were of such sophistication, that they must have been the result of some form of al Qaeda training, probably in Pakistan.

AMANPOUR: So, is there a Pakistani connection in this case, something that might point investigators toward that al Qaeda connection?

The early answer seems to be yes. New information from two U.S. government officials reveals that two of the suspects recently traveled to Pakistan. Government sources in the U.S. and Pakistan tell CNN that arrests in Pakistan may have made the difference.

Intelligence from Pakistan led British authorities to speed up their investigation, make arrests, and shut down the plot.

CRUICKSHANK: Pakistan is the new Afghanistan for al Qaeda. The crucial thing is that individuals involved with al Qaeda are now in Pakistan. That savoir faire, that knowledge is now in Pakistan. And it has been speculated now that the people involved in this current plot in London were also able to take advantage of that.

AMANPOUR: Is this part of a terrorist game plan? Indeed, simultaneous attacks, like the four London bombings on subways and buses and the four hijacked jets of 9/11, are hallmarks of al Qaeda.

But the framework for this kind of attack revealed today seems to date back more than a decade, to 1994. Back then, al Qaeda was already experimenting with blowing up planes using liquid explosives. In fact, a year later, they plotted to blow up 12 planes flying from Asia to the United States. And there was Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, now in federal prison. Just three months after 9/11, he tried to blow up a plane flying from the U.K. to the U.S. Reid was also a member of al Qaeda.

Finally, as we look for a possible al Qaeda connection, the question is, have we already been warned?

Listen to what Osama bin Laden had to say earlier this year, propaganda, perhaps, but, today, one can't help but wonder if he was sending a message.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): They are in the planning stages. And you will see them in the heart of your land, as soon as planning is complete.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You know, Christiane, I think it's hard for a lot of us to comprehend how young men, young Muslim men, in a country like Great Britain, could turn themselves in to suicide bombers.

AMANPOUR: And -- and be so virulently against the United States.

And there is some evidence that is coming out now, five years after 9/11, that many, many Muslims in England and around the world, according to documentaries that have been produced, are really succumbing to the conspiracy theories. They're really now saying that 9/11 was not al Qaeda; it was a U.S./CIA, Mossad/Israel, Zionist plot, basically designed to cause a war against Islam.

This is what is in the mind-set now of increasing numbers of these young people.

COOPER: It is fascinating.

Christiane, thanks very much.

A lot more ahead -- Heathrow is already one of the most security- conscious airports on the planet. In fact, you can -- you cannot turn a corner here, or, really, anywhere else in this country, without showing up on a security camera. People seem to accept it. Many grew up with Irish Republican Army car bombings.

And they have got a jump on us -- not by much, however, not by the looks of it today at airports around the United States.

With that, CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Liquids and gels are piling up at airport screening checkpoints, after the terror threat triggered a ban from aircraft cabins.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: One of the concerns we had is the possibility of bringing on board a number of different components of a bomb that any -- each one of which would be benign, but, when mixed together, would create a bomb.

MESERVE: Experts say, the government has long known of the potential explosive threat from liquids and gels, but has not closed that security loophole.

GEORGE BAURIES, FORMER FBI AGENT: Mixing gels and liquids and powders that can be bought separately, brought under the -- the -- under the scope of any sniffing devices, it's a major concern.

MESERVE: Though the Department of Homeland Security has deployed a wide array of detection devices, it says no machine capable of detecting explosive liquids or their components is ready for widespread use.

Vendors like DefenderTech are already lining up to try to persuade the government that their technologies are the answer.

WAYNE NORRIS, DEFENDERTECH INTERNATIONAL SOLUTIONS: It would have found any type of liquid. In fact, it would have found a water bottle.

MESERVE: Meanwhile, in an unprecedented step, commercial flights from the United Kingdom to the U.S. are now on the highest threat level, red. All carry-ons were forbidden. Passenger manifests are scoured. Additional federal air marshals are deployed.

All other commercial aviation has been raised to threat level orange, or high. So, Customs and Border Protection is giving all incoming international flights a closer look.

And some officials across the country are taking steps above and beyond what the federal government required, activating the National Guard and more.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: You will notice, at the airport, that our state police personnel are carrying automatic weapons. There will also be, as there have been in the past, but now at a heightened level, roadblocks and random searches.

MESERVE: Because the terror investigation is ongoing, Homeland officials cannot say how long the additional security measures will be in place, or whether they will be modified or strengthened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: There is some anecdotal evidence tonight that travelers are getting the message. Some airports are reporting shorter screening times and fewer confiscated weapons -- or items, I should say -- back to you.

COOPER: Hmm. It is amazing what people get used to very quickly.

Jeanne Meserve, thanks.

And, as we just heard, all airports here and in the U.S. will feel the effects of the terror plot, and -- and already are feeling the effects. There were delays. There were missed flights and a new ban on a long list of the most ordinary items.

CNN's Dan Simon is live at San Francisco International Airport -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: SIMON; Well, Anderson, we are in the international terminal, where things don't seem to be too crazy at the moment.

But, in terms of the items banned, the list is -- is wide- ranging. I will just go ahead and read them off: beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, creams, toothpaste, and other items of a similar consistency.

Now, in terms of how people are taking it, we have seen a -- a wide range of emotions. Some people did not seem to mind, while others were very frustrated. Either way, the ban produced long lines at airports all across the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No liquid is allowed, even yogurt, folks -- no yogurts today.

SIMON (voice-over): American travelers are already accustomed to tight security, but many are having trouble understanding the latest restrictions on toiletries and liquids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You would like to think that somebody knows what they are doing, and that this must be necessary. But I don't think you can blow up a plane with blush.

SIMON: This was just one load of trash at the San Francisco Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a bottle of champagne in there. There's a lot of lotions, perfumes.

SIMON: It's a throwback to the days immediately after 9/11, when airport screeners seized hundreds of scissors, nail clippers, and knives. Today's ban hit items that seem a lot less dangerous, including hair gel, eyedrops, and makeup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eighty bucks worth of makeup. Oh, that hurt.

SIMON: Screeners are allowing baby formula, and medicine for people who can show that they have valid prescriptions.

Some passengers feel there are still some oddities. They can buy drinks once they get past security inside the terminal. But they must throw them away before getting on the plane, and are then subjected to another search.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have additional measures of security check-ins and checks that we're doing before people get on the aircraft

SIMON: But some passengers tell us, that's not always being enforced. In some airports, like Phoenix, the new rules caused long lines at the X-ray machines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish I would have known ahead of time. You know, if you don't watch the news, then, you don't hear about it.

SIMON: Despite the inconveniences, like woman checking this tiny bag with her toiletries, the travel industry says it expects people to keep flying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a feeling that -- that people are going to -- after the initial shock of this, they're going to get used to the idea. They are not going to like the restrictions, but they are going to prepare themselves.

SIMON: As bad as it is here, travelers in Britain have it worse, not only no more carry-on bags, no iPods, computers, video games, or DVD players either. If you are a kid going on a long flight, too bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be pretty bored, yes.

SIMON: No indication yet there will be a ban on electronics here, too, but it didn't stop parents from worrying how about to keep their children occupied.

(on camera): How will traveling be for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very, very hard, very hard. It really keeps -- keeps them busy. We're traveling to Miami, which is like five hours, 40 minutes.

SIMON (voice-over): For now, it's all about ditching water and perfume. And the airports seem prepared, with trash cans every few feet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Dan, just so we're clear, what exactly can people in the United States bring on board an aircraft?

SIMON: Well, they can't bring on beverages or -- or gels, hair gels, things like that.

They can bring on their DVD players and iPods. You can't do that in Britain for the moment. But you can still bring a carry-on bag in the United States. And you can bring on electronics -- Anderson.

COOPER: They also said that you can -- you can bring on baby milk, I guess, if you -- if you have a baby with you. How do they know it's baby milk, though?

SIMON: That's an excellent question.

I'm told, if you say that you have baby milk, they actually want you to take a little sip, and -- and sample it, and show that it's not dangerous, and tell them that, yes, in fact, this is baby milk.

In terms of how long this inconvenience is going to last, we're told that it's only temporary. They haven't really given us a sense, in terms of how long it's going to last. To give you some frame of reference, after 9/11, it took three months before it was OK again to bring things on like -- like tweezers and razor blades.

So, this is going to take a little while -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Dan Simon, appreciate it.

It -- it is on days like today that we realize just how big a job it is to screen everyone in America's airports. Here is the "Raw Data."

The Transportation Security Administration says it screens nearly two million passengers every day. It has some 43,000 transportation security officer to do the job. They are stationed at 450 U.S. airports.

And, in the first half of this year, the officers collected more than eight million prohibited items. And the reason for those long lines, the TSA says that, every time a security officer detects a banned item, it adds an extra two to three minutes to the screening process.

Well, we have a lot more to discuss in the next two hours.

Two dozen suspects are in custody tonight. Dozens more may have been involved, however. So, the question is, is this terror plot really no longer a threat? Coming up: a 360 look at the risks -- all the angles.

Plus, liquid bombs -- how easy is it to turn toothpaste and hair gel into deadly explosives? Our investigative correspondent Drew Griffin looked into it. And what he found is not reassuring -- all that when this special edition, "Sky Terror," live from London of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was President Bush today commenting on the raids here in Britain.

The terror plot uncovered is a frightening remind that terrorists are always looking for new weapons and new ways to carry out their attacks.

Will Geddes is managing director at International Corporate Protection. Few people know more about counterterrorism than he does.

Will, appreciate you being with us.

How much do you think this threat is still out there? I mean, 24 people now in custody, but they say this operation was -- was quite large, maybe dozens more people involved.

WILL GEDDES, MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CORPORATE PROTECTION: Well, I think what is most indicative, Anderson, is the fact that the threat level has been raised right after the time that they intercepted a lot of the individuals.

And, therefore, that is either a contingency measure by the British government and the Home Office, to say, there is a threat that still prevails. And, ultimately, it would be naive to believe that this was the only operational cell in the U.K.

COOPER: You think there are still operational cells inside the U.K.?

GEDDES: Well, certainly, if we go back to July the 7th of last year, the security services and the Home Office did confess that -- they said that there were very likely to be other operational cells in existence.

However, it is very difficult to actually detect these groups, particularly when they are homegrown.

COOPER: It -- it's also difficult to detect these chemicals. How able would authorities have been able to detect some of these -- these liquids passing through?

GEDDES: Well, it would have been very difficult.

You need a variety of different types of technology to detect certain different component parts that you might be using in explosives. And a lot of the equipment that was currently being used actually was calibrated to try and detect conventional explosive component parts. And, therefore, looking at a liquid type of agent is going to be very, very difficult.

COOPER: And -- and, yet, we -- I mean, people knew of these liquid agents before. I mean, there -- there -- there have been other efforts like this in -- in the past by terrorists.

Why not screen for these? Why -- why haven't we been screening for these for years?

GEDDES: Well, I think, as passengers are able to take hand luggage on to airplanes, one could put an explosive device or a liquid device, certainly, in any type of container.

It could anything from a -- a contact lens solution bottle, right through to a bottle of soda. And -- and, again, it's very difficult to detect these, particularly with the numbers of people that are actually moving through Heathrow Airport and other international airports on a daily basis.

COOPER: You can't screen for everything.

GEDDES: You can't screen for anything -- for everything.

And, certainly, there is not such a thing as 100 percent security. But there should have been, perhaps, some measures of detection to try and look at that type of threat, because, certainly, it materialized before by al Qaeda, back in 1994.

COOPER: Right. It -- it is amazing, when you see the numbers, 180,000 people passing through Heathrow on one single day at -- at the height of summer.

What about these chemicals? What should people know about, I mean, how easy they are to put together? It seems like this stuff is available on the Internet.

GEDDES: Well, yes. I mean, if you simply go on to any one of the major Web browsers, and you put in "liquid explosives" or "explosive liquids," you will come up with dozens and dozens of pages of various different Internet sites which will talk about the component parts. It doesn't take an enormous amount of training to actually glean that information, to then put these things together.

People need to be conscious, obviously, that these types of explosives are also, in many respects, quite fragile. And, until we get more information exactly about what the devices were and what the constituent parts were, it's going to be difficult to say whether they would have been fragile enough to be able to take on board the planes, and for them to implement their plan.

COOPER: Were you surprised to hear that these guys were going to do what they call a dry run, that they were going to sort of test the -- the system?

GEDDES: Not surprised at all.

Certainly, this is a very standard modus operandi for most terrorist groups. Certainly, for a number of months, we know that surveillance has been ongoing on these particular individuals. And they would have traveled in and out of various airports, probably Heathrow on a frequent occasion, to, again, monitor where they could identify the vulnerabilities in the physical security, and how they could best get away with their objective.

COOPER: It's fascinating.

Will Geddes, appreciate you for joining us. Thank you very much. Interesting.

A lot more to talk about here in the hour ahead -- blowing up a plane using ingredients disguised as common cosmetics, it sounds incredible. It is not. How could it be done? Find out next.

And does the long shadow of al Qaeda hang over today's news? We will talk to security expert Peter Bergen -- when this special edition of 360, live from London, continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's clear that the plot that was disrupted by British authorities over the last 24 hours was a plot that involved suicide bombings. The plan was to have multiple suicide bombings on aircraft, essentially at the same time. So we know that the people involved were, in fact, intending or expected to lose their own lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well-coordinated operation, according to authorities. Intelligence officials tell us that the suspected terrorists planning to use liquid explosives, ingredients masked by sports drinks or hair gel and virtually undetectable by airplane security.

So is it really that easy? We wanted to find out. CNN's Drew Griffin investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the simplicity of the plot that is so scary: separate passengers, each carrying one piece of a bomb, the ingredients on their own not enough to raise suspicion. And according to the former head of security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, current screening technology would most likely have missed it.

RAFI RON, AIRPORT SECURITY EXPERT: We can certainly assume that this was one of the reasons that the terrorists have chosen to focus on this type of -- of explosive material form, because they believe that it would be difficult, more difficult for us to detect.

GRIFFIN: Here is one way it could work. The plotters, perhaps as many as four, board a plane and take seats throughout the cabin. At a predetermined moment, the leader leaves his seat, carrying a small carry-on bag. He collects an ingredient along the way. Other participants get the signal to meet at a washroom. They provide the final pieces.

Inside the bathroom, the leader begins mixing the chemicals. Then he attaches an electronic trigger, until now disguised as a cell phone.

Once the bomb is complete, the leader returns to his seat, or wherever he deems to be the most effective spot and triggers it, killing himself and destroying the plane.

(on camera) And experts tell us it wouldn't take much: liquids that could easily fit into containers of household items, things people normally take on planes, then mixed together on board. In this case, something as small as a sports drink and maybe some hair gel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could take as little as a water bottle to cause enough damage to an aircraft.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): British intelligence officials report the planned explosive mixture was to be peroxide based and involved liquid and paste-like ingredients, according to official U.S. sources.

Previous CNN investigations in Afghanistan have uncovered al Qaeda training videos and documents giving step by step instructions in using similar household and industrial chemicals to create bombs, individually, components that in small amounts, would be hard to detect, which is why airport security expert Rafi Ron says it would be much more effective to search for suspicious people instead of suspicious liquids.

RON: It is extremely difficult for people to disguise the fact that they are under a tremendous amount of stress, that they are going to kill themselves and many other people around them in a short period of time and all the other factors that affect their behavior.

GRIFFIN: More time spent searching for the terrorists themselves, he says, not just their deadly tools.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Drew was talking about a popular sports drink here in England. This is actually the sports drink. We just picked it up at a store. It's orange in color. The authorities were saying they would have dumped out the actual liquid inside here and replaced it with a chemical liquid, and no one would have known the difference.

A lot more to talk about. Coming up, this alleged terror plot has all the markings of al Qaeda, say authorities. We're going to give the litmus test with CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen, coming up.

Plus, the latest developments from the front lines in the crisis in the Middle East from CNN's John Roberts. More fierce fighting today and more diplomacy efforts when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: As we approach the fifth anniversary of September 11, too often people think that it's something in the past, but today reminds us that it's not just the past. We have to be vigilant today, and we have to be vigilant tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was, of course, New York Governor George Pataki. Security experts are saying that this alleged plot bears the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Nobody knows more about al Qaeda than my next guest, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. He joins me from New York.

Peter, good to see you.

So these -- we learned that apparently two suspects met with an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Two of the suspects involved in this plot. Do you think this is al Qaeda?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck it's probably a duck, and it's not the Animal Liberation Front in this case. I think it's al Qaeda.

So you know, we saw with the July 7, 2005, report as Christiane pointed out, the conventional wisdom that this is homegrown Brits who got together the attack in London on July 7, 2005, turned out to be complete wrong.

It was an al Qaeda operation. They recorded suicide tapes with al Qaeda. They got bomb making training in Pakistan. I would be very surprised if this plot that was averted today didn't have very much the same structure.

We, you know, typically -- we've had 24 arrests. We're saying that two of these people met with a supposed al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. These are likely the leaders. You wouldn't need to have very many people in the plot go to Pakistan, but you would need people to get the bomb training, to get the training about how to run a cell effectively, to meet with al Qaeda, maybe make some suicide tapes.

And so, my expectation is that, of the 24 people, maybe two or three of them went to Pakistan, got this training. And certainly, al Qaeda has wanted to deliver something big for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. We're in that time frame right now. I'm not saying it would have happened exactly on the anniversary, but it would happen around the time.

We've had rather bellicose statements from both bin Laden and Zawahiri, saying something was in the works. Perhaps this was more than just verbiage in this case. Perhaps they really did have a sense something was coming along the pike here.

COOPER: It's certainly an audacious plan. I mean, as many as 10 aircraft, simultaneous attacks. Why focus on aircrafts? Why sort of these big gestures?

BERGEN: Well, I think American Airlines in particular have Americans on them, so that's good from al Qaeda's perspective. They're American brand names. That's also good. Tourism and aviation are vital to the global economy. They want to damage the global economy. They want to damage the American economy.

So aviation is particularly a focus. But you know, one reason why this plot may have been averted is maybe this was too complicated a plan. One of the reasons the 9/11 plan worked is bin Laden personally intervened and said instead of having ten planes crashing in Asia and the United States, as was initially the plane, let's just make it four or five. Now with this plan, we have 10 planes. We have already 24 suspects arrested. Maybe the whole thing was too grandiose. And if they'd made it much smaller it might have had more chance of success.

COOPER: What does it tell you about what is happening inside Britain -- inside Britain's -- some aspects of the Muslim community here, that you have Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, coming from Britain, trying to blow up a plane that left from Paris to the United States. You have the incident, of course, last year, the suicide bombings in Britain on the transportation system, and now this.

What's going on here?

BERGEN: Let me add two other quick examples. One, two British/Pakistani citizens bombed a nightclub in Tel Aviv in 2003, a suicide attack. Richard Reid had a colleague who was also planning a shoe bomb attack. He was a British citizen of Pakistani descent.

And so what's going on here is you've got a group of, you know, Pakistani, Muslims or British -- with British passports, who are -- have been radicalized for one reason other another. Unemployment rates among young British Muslims stand at something like 22 percent. There is quite a radical feeling amongst the British Muslim population, or enough to generate these kinds of things.

Many British Muslims of Pakistani descent are actually from Kashmir, so they have an historic connection to the Kashmiri conflict, which is both a core grievance and also a training ground for these people.

And so that's why, basically, sitting here in the United States, the principle threat in the United Stats, unfortunately, is British citizens with Pakistani descent. We've seen suicide attacks in London, Tel Aviv, attempts on United States on two occasions now by this group of people.

And I hate to say that, as somebody who grew up in Britain, but I think that's simply a fact. If you were to score which group of people most likely to attack the United States right now, it would be that group of people.

COOPER: It's certainly troubling. And we're trying to learn more about the people involved in this plot, 24 people now in custody, more possibly still out there. Authorities say investigation still under way.

Peter, thanks for joining us. We'll talk to you later on in the program.

One quick programming note to tell you about: Peter has been working on a special two-hour look inside al Qaeda. It's called "In the Footsteps of bin Laden", and it airs on the 23rd of this month, at 9 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. He's also written one of the most comprehensive books about Osama bin Laden, called "The Osama bin Laden I know: An Oral History of Osama bin Laden" that's out now, and it's a fascinating read. Coming up next: terror on another front, the lightning intensifies along the border. Excuse me, I should say the fighting intensifies along the border between Israel and Lebanon and beyond. We'll have the latest developments from the war zone and the U.N. from CNN's John Roberts coming up.

Plus, more on the alleged plot that stopped here in London. And what if? That's the question on everyone's lips. What if it happened? What would the U.S. authorities have been able to do about it? Some answers when this special edition of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: An Israeli town, the aftermath of a Hezbollah rocket attack. More fighting today, more diplomatic efforts in day 30 of this crisis in the Middle East.

John Roberts joins us now live from the Israeli/Lebanese border with the latest developments in tonight's other big story -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you, Anderson.

Another night of fighting here in this valley in the surrounding hills. Not as intense as it was last night when you were broadcasting from here, but there's still a lot of fighting.

For example, it took a piece of tape about five minutes ago. A ridgeline up near the al-Khiyam prison. You can see the tracer fire going across that ridgeline as Israeli forces are trying to hit something. Didn't see anything coming back toward them, so it may be just outgoing fire.

But what's interesting about that, too, is they're still in the same place they were last night. So that particular unit hasn't made much of an advance, though other units have advanced all the way up to Marjeyoun, which is the furthest north that Israeli troops have been operating.

There is hope today that there may be a vote at the United Nations on a newly crafted resolution to bring an end to these hostilities. The United States and France have been working together on this resolution. The sticking point really seems to be the idea of sequencing, the latest resolution would bring both the Lebanese army and an expanded United Nations force down toward the border.

At the same time as that was that coming down, Israel would begin to withdraw and Hezbollah would begin to move forward or move north, further north so that by the time that force got all the way down to the border between Israel and Lebanon, it would be the only military presence in the area. Both Israel and Hezbollah would be out.

It's believed that it may come to a vote later on today. The United Nations -- the United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, was optimistic of that, but we still don't know if that is going to happen.

Meantime, here's a look at what happened during the day here in Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): At nightfall, thick oily smoke clouds a Lebanese hillside. An Israeli artillery shell finds its mark. The strike is in support of troops fighting in the town of Marjayoun, within sight of Lebanon's Litani River.

The operation began Tuesday night from the tip of the Galilee Peninsula, the farthest drive north yet for the Israeli army.

The goal is to eliminate the threat from Hezbollah raining Katyusha rockets on Northern Israel. More than 160 fell today, 28 inside populated areas. One struck this house in a village of Dir Alasad (ph), killing an Arab mother and her 5-year-old child.

Hunting down those launch sites is proving more difficult than first thought, says Israeli army spokesman Michael Oren.

MICHAEL OREN, IDF SPOKESMAN: Hezbollah was deeply dug in here. They had six years to do it. And extracting them from their underground tunnels, craters, arms caches is a laborious and dangerous process and is not done overnight.

ROBERTS (on camera): In the light of day, you can see the aftermath of an intense battle that was raging for more than 36 hours. The mark of the main battle tank has taken some sort of round here in the front end, stripping off a lot of that armor.

Walking now toward the Lebanese side, you see that the border fence has been blown wide open. Crossing over into Lebanon, these are the tank berms that were built for these markers (ph) to hide behind while they fired on Hezbollah positions.

Smoke still hangs through this valley, and we still hear the sound of gunfire in the Arab villages that dot these hillsides.

The Israeli army is describing this, though, as only one of their pinpoint operations that they have been engaging in for nearly the last month. This is not part of an expanded ground campaign that still may lie ahead in the days to come.

(voice-over) Tanks and troops continue to mass near the border, though political leaders are holding off on an expansion, hoping just the threat will pressure Lebanese officials into a deal to end the fighting. But if diplomacy fails, they have vowed a major invasion, a move that has broad support in Israel.

OREN: Let me be clear that on the ground campaign, you limit to a certain degree the amount of civilian casualties we're inflicting on the other side, even at the risk of incurring greater casualties on your side among your soldiers.

ROBERTS: Israeli today indicated its intent to continue hitting targets from the air, dropping leaflets in Shiite areas in Southern Beirut, urging civilians to leave. And for the first time, Israel struck Beirut's more affluent neighborhoods, targeting a lighthouse that served as a cell phone communications tower.

But some Israeli officials are wary of sending large numbers of new troops into Lebanon, even scaling back their expectations of what this war will achieve.

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PRESIDENT MINISTER: Since we didn't initiate the war we don't have to win it. We have to stop it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Israeli officials say they want to exhaust the diplomatic options before deciding whether or not to launch expansion of the ground force but with these new moves at the United Nations again, perhaps a vote on a resolution as soon as today. Could be that that expansion never takes place. If they do vote in a resolution, Lebanon and Israel agree to it. The guns could fall silent within a couple of days -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's see. John Roberts, thanks.

Back to the terror plot here in London and the what-if scenario? What if it did happen? How would U.S. authorities have reacted to it? What could they have done? That story coming up.

Plus, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, partners in the war on terror, what they knew about the alleged plot and when they knew it.

You're watching 360, live from London's Heathrow Airport.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE U.S.: Every day it's September 12 for those of us tasked with protecting America, and we know that our counterparts abroad feel the same way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez talking to reporters this morning.

Here's the $1 billion question: what if? What if the British were not prepared? What if bombs got on passenger planes? What if the United States was attacked? It is a daunting question: what it? Tom Foreman went for some answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If terrorists seized a plane and appeared ready to crash it into an American city, military officials say they are much better prepared to stop it than they once were.

Private planes have strayed into restricted air space over Washington, and fighter jets have intercepted them several times since 9/11, ready, if necessary, to shoot them down, according to the military, if they won't veer off and land as ordered. Security analysts say, that's how it has to be, as long as terrorists make weapons out of planes.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: The government now is sensitized to the fact that is a real world threat. It's just not a hypothetical possibility that at some point in the future an aircraft might have to be shot down and civilian life lost in order to protect a greater number of civilian lives on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got another hijack?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. 175 dropped his transponder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got a possible hijack.

ROBERTS: The movie "United 93" underscored what studies found after 9/11, that there was much confusion over who could authorize shooting down a commercial plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need rules of engagement. Do we shoot this flight down?

ROBERTS: Since then, the military's Northern Command in Colorado has been put in charge of this plan.

If an airplane is believed to be threatening an American target, the Federal Aviation Administration will contact North Comm, which will order the nearest military base to scramble fighter jets. Those fighters will intercept the plane and warn it to turn away. And if none of that works, and the plane keeps coming, posing an immediate threat, North Comm can shoot it down.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM WEBSTER, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: That's our job, 24/7, to watch the skies and make sure that those kinds of threats are not able to carry through with the acts that they want to.

FOREMAN: The president could well make the call himself, but if there is not enough time, at least now there is a procedure.

ERVIN: My bet is there won't be any confusion the next time a plane wanders into restricted air space and appears to have threatening intent.

FOREMAN: Critics say the plan might be inadequate, especially against a fast moving private jet, and political or humanitarian concerns could preempt a shoot-down anyway. But the military has now flown thousands of missions training to take this very grave step, if it is ever needed.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Tom, is there a difference in the way that domestic and international flights would be handled?

FOREMAN: Well, on paper, no. Officially, no; in reality, yes. Because the fact is, this is a very difficult decision. The whole idea of shooting down a civilian airliner is incredibly sensitive here. Most of the chain of command for this is classified. You can't even track down exactly how the decision would be made.

But you do know this, in Washington, D.C., if you're talking about a plane that took off from Chicago, they're going have more information about it. They're going to have more of a sense of what that plane is about than a plane that took off in the Middle East, for example, and is flying to the United States.

In the end, however, there's very much the belief that this decision will probably be made all of the way up at the White House -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Tom, thanks for that.

Coming up, we move back from "what if" back to what is. The latest on the investigation, the arrests, how the plot was unraveled and the possible connections to al Qaeda. The likely, increasingly likely connections to al Qaeda, it seems.

Also, we'll have more on the new rules of flying: no bottles, no makeup, not even yogurt. So will giving up yogurt make us safe?

And what happens after the checkpoint? And the plot that may have been inspiration for what was seen tonight, evidence perhaps, that al Qaeda will keep trying and trying and trying until it succeeds.

A break first. This is a 360 special from Heathrow Airport in London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And good evening again from London's Heathrow Airport, a spot, authorities say, that might have gone down in history as the launching pad for a terror in the sky, a terror surpassing even 9/11.

ANNOUNCER: A brazen terror plot that could have killed thousands.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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