Asian Airlines Tighten Security after Foiled Terror Plot

Major Asian airlines tightened security on flights bound for Britain and the United States but avoided significant delays after British police uncovered an alleged plot to bomb aircraft out of the sky, aviation officials said Thursday.

Airlines in South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Australia all imposed new restrictions on carry-on and other luggage for jets in accordance with requests from American and British authorities in the hours after the public disclosure of the plot.

Civil aviation officials in the Asia-Pacific, however, reacted cautiously to the threat, holding off for the most part on canceling flights and stopping short of the security crackdown and terrorist warnings that triggered delays and long lines at British airports.

London's Heathrow airport, the busiest in Europe, was closed to most European flights Thursday morning after British authorities uncovered the terrorist plot to blow up several aircraft in flight to the United States using explosives smuggled in hand luggage.

In Asia, the plot raised memories of an unsuccessful 1995 attempt by a Manila, Philippines-based terror group to use liquid explosives to bomb a dozen commercial flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and New York.

Following the discovery of the London plot Thursday, two Korean national flag-carriers - Korean Air and Asiana Airlines - raised their security level on flights to Britain to "orange," the second highest of five levels of alertness, said Kim Sang-soo, an official at the state-run Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Security for U.S.-bound flights was also heightened following a U.S. request that shoes of all passengers be checked for hidden explosives and any liquid- or gel-type belongings be seized, Kim said.

Australian flagship airline Qantas Airways Ltd. said Thursday it would comply with new counterterrorism security restrictions on passengers carry-on luggage for U.S. and British services, but said other international services will remain unchanged.

"These additional security requirements do not affect Qantas domestic and other international operations," Qantas said in a statement on its Web site.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. also tightened security on flights to and from the United States on the orders of the U.S. Transport Security Administration.

In Japan, aviation officials said all London-bound flights had left Thursday and were to arrive at Heathrow Airport as scheduled. But it was not immediately clear if flights from Japan to London would be affected Friday.

Transport Ministry official Ken Iwata said the ministry was collecting information from British authorities before deciding what to do about Friday travel. He added, however, that it was unlikely the ministry will order airlines to divert destinations for flights.

Transport Ministry official Masahi Date said that passengers on flights bound for the United States were also required to check in liquid items such as beverages and shampoo, but he said the ministry had no immediate plans to raise the alert from Level 1 at Tokyo's international airport at Narita.

Japan Airlines officials in London were complying with British requests for tighter security, including limiting carry-on items and giving passengers transparent plastic bags to carry them in, said airline spokesman Yoshiteru Suzuki.

"We will keep a close eye on orders from authorities and we will cooperate with them if asked," Suzuki said.

Flights from Delhi, Hong Kong and Pakistan were unaffected by the turmoil, airline officials said.

"We are always alert and keep a strict vigil at all airports," said Col. Rauf Khan, deputy director general for Pakistan's Airport Security Force.

Thai Airways said in a news release that one of its flights departing Heathrow for Bangkok on Thursday afternoon was expected to depart about an hour late because of the new carry-on luggage restrictions. But no flights from Thailand to London have been canceled, said Somchai Sawasdeepon, a senior official from Airports of Thailand.

In 1995 when the Manila plot - dubbed "Project Bojinka" - was exposed, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered pat-down searches of all passengers and airline employees going onto planes and barred containers of liquids, except medicines and sealed baby formula, from the cabin.

Ramzi Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was convicted in a U.S. trial in 1996 for the attempt, along with two conspirators. Prosecutors in the trial said the bombings would have killed 4,000 people.

The plot may also served as an inspiration for Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, according to interrogation reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

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