Australia PM warns of missile threat to Qantas flights at Heathrow

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The Independent Online

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard today warned its national airline Qantas is a potential target for terrorists with heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles.

Mr Howard said concerns in the US and Britain about possible terrorist attacks on commercial airlines prompted Australian authorities to launch intelligence-sharing talks with London, focusing on Qantas flights in and out of London's Heathrow airport.

"That's one of the things we're constantly in touch with the British about," he said. He did not disclose further details about the concerns.

No one at the airline was immediately available for comment. Qantas flies to Heathrow about 20 times a week.

Mr Howard told Australia's Channel 9 TV that all Western embassies in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and places where Westerners gather in Indonesia were also possible terrorist targets.

His comments came after a blast in Jakarta's Marriott Hotel on Tuesday, which killed 10 people and injured 146.

The US issued fresh predictions of more terrorist attacks in the Asia-Pacific region following the Marriott blast. Mr Howard has not ruled out the possibility of attacks on Australian soil.

Authorities believe regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the blast. The group has also been blamed for last October's Bali bombs that killed 202 people, including many Australian tourists.

Last November, suspected terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles at a plane full of Israeli vacationers in Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles missed, and no one was injured in that attack.

Howard vowed today to attend a service for the victims of last year's bombings on Bali, despite the warnings of more terrorist violence in the region.

"It would send a very bad signal if the Australian prime minister didn't go," John Howard told Channel 9 TV.

He said it would take a very big change in security to stop him going to the one-year anniversary service for those killed in the October 12 blasts.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, an Indonesian, was sentenced to death Thursday for his role in the Bali nightclub bombings.