By Steven Donald Smith
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2006 – The overnight arrests of 21 suspected terrorists by British authorities is a stark reminder that the United States is still at war with "Islamic fascists" who are intent on destroying freedom-loving people, President Bush said today. The suspects are thought to have been ready to unleash a plot to bomb multiple international flights bound for the United States. Officials said the suspects planned to carry liquid explosives onto about 10 commercial airplanes.
"I want to thank the government of Tony Blair and officials in the United Kingdom for their good work in busting this plot," Bush said while standing on the tarmac at Austin Straubel International Airport, in Green Bay, Wis. "I thank the officials in Washington, D.C., and around our country who gather intelligence and who work to protect the American people."
Bush said cooperation between British and American authorities was solid, and the cooperation among agencies within the U.S. government was excellent. He added that the United States is safer today than it was before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, because of security improvements made since that attack. "But obviously we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in," the president said.
Bush said travelers are going to be inconvenienced as a result of the steps taken to further tighten airport security, but he urged patience and vigilance. "The inconveniences occur because we will take the steps necessary to protect the American people," he said. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said today that the investigation into the bomb plot is ongoing.
"This plot appears to have been well planned and well advanced, with a significant number of operatives," Chertoff said. He described the plot as sophisticated in nature and "suggestive of an al Qaeda plot." Chertoff said the arrests in Britain have significantly disrupted a major threat. "But we cannot assume that the threat has been completely thwarted or that we have fully identified and neutralized every member of this terrorist network," he added.
Reports indicate that U.S. and British intelligence agencies continue to search for 10 additional suspects. The U.S. raised the nation's threat level for commercial flights originating in the United Kingdom and bound for the United States to its highest alert level of Severe or Red. The threat level for all other flights was raised to High or Orange.
In addition, almost all liquids have been temporarily banned from commercial flights, and several states have enhanced airport security measures by deploying National Guard troops there. "I have ordered the re-deployment of security assets to high priority locations to respond to this threat -- these assets include bomb-sniffing dogs, the California National Guard, and the California Highway Patrol, in concert with local and federal law enforcement agencies," Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ordered the Massachusetts National Guard to bolster airport security in the commonwealth. "We've done this mission before, and we're ready to do it again," said Brig. Gen. Oliver J. Mason, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard. The commonwealth's Guard units helped secure its airports after the Sept. 11 attacks. The role of the National Guard in airport security is to support or augment, not replace, airport security and law enforcement authorities, Guard officials said.