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US Downplays Imminent Threat to Aviation

VOA News

07 Aug 2003 21:08 UTC

The Department of Homeland Security is downplaying a New York Times report that the government has sent aviation security experts abroad to determine whether major foreign commercial airports can be defended against terrorists who might try to shoot down passenger planes.

Department spokesman Brian Roehrkrasse confirmed that experts have been sent to consult with security officials in Iraq, Europe and Asia, but says concerns about such attacks are long-standing. The New York Times says the move follows recent intelligence reports suggesting that terrorists may be planning to use shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles to target passenger airplanes. The Times quotes administration officials as saying the attacks could be imminent.

The Homeland official says teams have been sent to Baghdad and Basra in Iraq, as well as the capitals of Greece, Turkey and the Philippines. He confirms there are no indications that such weapons pose a threat within the United States.

The spokesman added that the concern in Iraq comes from forces loyal to the former government of Saddam Hussein. Elsewhere, the threat is believed to be linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Al-Qaida terrorists are thought to have been responsible for a failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet last year in Kenya.

But the spokesman disputed the Times account that the teams were dispatched several weeks ago in secrecy because of concerns terrorists might strike before the experts could do their work.

Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security warned U.S. airport officials to pay closer attention to passengers' electronic items, including cameras, saying terrorists may use them to hide explosives.