An al-Qaeda cell in Syria represents a “clear and present danger” to passenger and cargo flights, a US official has warned.
The Khorasan Group has been researching and testing explosive devices that will pass undetected through airport security.
US airstrikes were carried out on the group earlier this week in an attempt to disrupt their plans but an attack is still regarded as “imminent”.
John Pistole, the Obama administration’s most senior aviation security expert, told the Washington Aero Club: “The stakes are real and the threats are high.
”I see the Khorasan Group as being a very capable, determined enemy who was very much focused on getting somebody or something on a plane bound for Europe or the United States.“
Washington only revealed publicly that it was aware of the Khorasan Group a week ago but its intelligence reports led in July to security being tightened at some overseas airports with direct flights to the US.
Among the measures introduced were rules to insist passengers turned on laptops, tablets and other devices to demonstrate they worked and weren’t dummy containers for explosives.
Enhanced security has been introduced at about two dozen European, Middle Eastern and African airports, along with other measures at US airports.
Mr Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, admitted that luck will play a part in detecting explosives intended to bring down a plane.
He cited the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber who attempted to detonate explosive underpants over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab had travelled through three airports with metal detectors before getting on the flight to the US but because no metal was used in the device it escaped detection.
He added that the concern is while airport security can be tight, staff can make mistakes and “may not be on their A-game” on a day when a terrorist tries to board a flight.Reuse content