The BBC is airing a press conference with John Reid, the Home Secretary, at which Reid announced that the British police, in conjunction with British security services in the form of MI5, have swooped on suspected terrorists plotting what could have been one of the worst terrorist attacks yet. The full statements are here. According to the BBC website:
The plot is thought to have involved a series of “waves” of simultaneous attacks, targeting three planes each time.
He also said the plan “revolved around liquids of some kind”.
“Officials say the explosives would have been sophisticated and extremely effective,” our correspondent said.
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport has been closed to all incoming flights that are not already in the air, while several outbound services have been cancelled.
Gatwick Airport has suspended all flights.
From the sounds of it, this attack could have dwarfed 9/11 in its intensity and ferocity:
Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson said the alleged plotters had intended “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.
“We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder,” he said.
“We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives on to aeroplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in flight. We also believe that the intended targets were flights from the United Kingdom to the United States of America.
“I can confirm that a significant number of people are currently in custody and the operation is ongoing.”
Police had spoken to a “good number of community leaders to make them aware that a major operation was under way,” he added.
Head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said the investigation had had “global dimensions” and had seen an “unprecedented level” of surveillance.
The decision to take action had been taken on Wednesday night, he added.
According to BBC sources the “principal characters” suspected of being involved in the plot were British-born. There are also understood to be links to Pakistan.
The UK has raised its threat assessment level to its highest, ‘Critical’ and it is probably reasonable to expect it to remain at this elevated level until it is clear that the plot has truly been thwarted. In the meantime a series of restrictions have been imposed on travellers controlling, among other things, what hand luggage may be taken onboard.