U.S. airlines have been warned by the federal Department of Homeland Security about credible threats that shoe bombs may be used to attack commercial passenger jets, an agency official said.
The department told airport screeners to check passengers’ shoes for traces of explosives, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to talk publicly about an ongoing investigation. There was no indication of a specific bomb plot, the official said yesterday.
“Out of an abundance of caution, DHS regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners about relevant threat information,” Homeland Security said in a statement. “These types of regular communications are part of that important priority.”
Explosive-laced footwear was the weapon of choice for Richard C. Reid, a Briton and self-declared al-Qaeda member who tried to blow up an American Airlines jet en route to Miami from Paris in 2001. Passengers and flight attendants pounced as Reid attempted to light his high-top sneakers, and he later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Yesterday’s alert followed the U.S. government’s Feb. 6 ban on all liquids, gels and aerosols from carry-on luggage on flights between the U.S. and Russia ahead of the Olympics. The restrictions were triggered by warnings that terrorists might hide bomb-making materials in toothpaste tubes for assembly into an explosive device during or after flights.
Airlines for America, the Washington-based trade group representing major U.S. carriers, referred requests for comment about the shoe-bomb threat to Homeland Security.
Onboard explosives have been a focus for U.S. aviation security in the years since the September 2001 terror attacks.
The devices smuggled aboard the American jet by Reid contained the explosive known as by the acronym TATP and were powerful enough to rip a hole in the fuselage, U.S. authorities said after that incident.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 after he was convicted of attempting to bomb a Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) jet with explosives hidden in his underwear. He set fire to his clothing and a wall before other travelers subdued him as Flight 253 from Delta’s Northwest Airlines neared Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.
Security limits on carry-on liquids and gels date to 2006, when U.K. police said they foiled a plot to use liquid explosives to destroy U.S.-bound jetliners.
NBC News reported on the latest shoe-bomb threat earlier yesterday, citing government officials it didn’t identify.