From: Reuters
Published January 25, 2008 05:29 AM

U.S. says threat against airlines remains high

By Dominic Evans

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The United States is likely to keep a high threat designation for the airline industry because militants still see air travel as a target, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Chertoff said the orange, or high, threat level assigned to the airline sector -- one level higher than the overall alert level for the United States -- was based on a general assessment rather than a specific threat.

"We've seen again and again interest in this sector," he said, pointing to an alleged British-based plot to blow up transatlantic flights using liquid explosives in 2006 and an attempted car bomb attack on Glasgow airport last year.

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"So people think of aviation not only in terms of the aircraft but the whole infrastructure including the airports," Chertoff told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

The Department of Homeland Security was itself created in response to the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijackers commandeered four planes, slamming two into New York's World Trade Centre and one into the Pentagon outside Washington, and crashing the fourth in a field in Pennsylvania.

More than six years after the attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, "there continues to be a focus on air travel as a target," he said, adding the threat level was unlikely to be changed in the near future.

Chertoff, who warned last week that one of the biggest threats to U.S. security could come from Europe, said European counter-terrorism authorities acknowledge their countries "are both a target and a platform" for militants.

But over the last year he and his European counterparts had broadly agreed on what measures needed to be put in place including exchange of information about potential attackers and greater border security.

In an effort to stem militant recruitment, they had sought to understand the process of radicalization which could lead towards militancy, Chertoff said.

Highlighting one perceived difference between the United States and Europe, Chertoff said Muslims in the United States were well integrated into society. "I don't think there is a perception that they are marginalized and we want to make sure they don't feel marginalized," he said.

But he said U.S. authorities were paying particular attention to the potential for militant recruiting inside jails.

"Prisons are always a fertile area for recruitment of all extreme groups, whatever the ideology," Chertoff said.

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