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U.S. boosts security amid British copy cat concerns

Reuters | July 2, 2007
David Morgan

The United States is ramping up transportation security, including more air marshals on flights to Britain, amid concern an attack in Scotland could spawn copy cats, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Sunday.

Saturday's attack on Glasgow's airport using a fuel-filled vehicle followed British police thwarting a car bomb plot in London on Friday. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the three attacks were linked to people associated with al Qaeda.

On Sunday, a day after U.S. officials responded to the Glasgow attack by raising security at airports, Chertoff said there remained "no specific credible evidence" of a threat against the United States.

But he said on ABC's "This Week" program that U.S. authorities would tighten security "at various rail locations and other mass transit locations" this week as many Americans prepare to travel for the Independence Day holiday on July 4.

"One of the things we always do focus on a little bit is the possibility of a copy cat, which is another reason why we have put some additional security measures in place," he said.

The United States has been on heightened alert since the September 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda using hijacked airliners. Britain is a target for Islamic militants as well for being a key ally to Washington in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chertoff said the Bush administration would increase the number of federal air marshals aboard flights to Britain.

"Since the events of the last couple of days we will be doing so for some time," he said.

He declined to comment on an earlier ABC report that said the Department of Homeland Security received intelligence two weeks ago about a possible airport attack in Glasgow. He denied the report's assertion that the DHS had already assigned more air marshals to Glasgow flights as a result.

But on CNN's "Late Edition," Chertoff acknowledged: "We have known coming into this summer that we are entering a period when we have to be mindful of the threat of terrorism."


A U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incidents in Britain could encourage so-called copy cat actors by demonstrating how attacks might be carried out with common materials.

"A copy cat is a logical proposition," said the official, noting that the July 7, 2005, London transport bombings that killed 56 people were followed by alleged copy cat attempts two weeks later in which there were no casualties.

The failed London car bombs and Glasgow attack suggested a possible link to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's arrival in power last week, some analysts said.

But the counterterrorism official said it was too early to dismiss an Internet message posted to an Islamist forum on Thursday that threatened attacks on London in retaliation for the award of a British knighthood to Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses," faced a fatwa death warrant from Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 for blasphemy against Islam, forcing him into hiding for nine years.

Following Saturday's incident, Britain raised its security level to "critical," meaning the risk of another attack was imminent. The U.S. warning levels remained unchanged.

In a sign of security fears, the New York Port Authority briefly evacuated the American Airlines terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday as it investigated a suspicious package. Officials later gave the "all clear".


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