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Terror scare at Manchester Airport as man attempts to take 'unidentified white powder' onto flight b


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Terror scare at Manchester Airport as man attempts to take 'unidentified white powder' onto flight bound for Heathrow



By Jason Groves, Rhianna King and Sophie Freeman

Last updated at 7:08 PM on 23rd January 2010




A large part of Manchester Airport was evacuated this afternoon after a man attempted to carry an unidentified white powder onto a plane.

The substance was discovered in a bag that the Asian man, who is believed to be in his 20s, was planning to take on a flight from Manchester to London Heathrow.

It comes as Britain's terror level was increased to 'severe' last night, meaning an attack is 'highly likely'.

A chemical incident was declared and the check-in and security screening areas at the airport's Terminal 3 were evacuated.


article-1245390-010C84C6000004B0-627_468x305.jpg Security alert: An armed policeman guards Manchester Airport (file picture)



The rest of the airport remains open, but a number of flights have been delayed.

Police said the man has not been arrested and is currently helping with inquiries while tests are conducted on the powder.

The passenger was trying to board flight BD589 to Heathrow, which was due to depart at 1.55pm.

It is understood he told airport staff that he was carrying a 'freeze-dried compound' on behalf of a friend.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: 'Shortly before 12.55pm, police at Manchester Airport were called by security staff from the check-in desk at Terminal 3, who had discovered a non-identified white powder in a bag which a man was attempting to carry on to a plane.

'Officers attended along with the fire service and they declared it a chemical incident.


'Tests are currently on-going to establish what the powder is.

article-1245390-02E1BBFF0000044D-931_468x286.jpg Bus bomb: The attack in Tavistock Square, London, on July 7 2005



'The check-in desk at Terminal 3 has been cordoned off and a man in his 20s is helping police with their inquiries at the airport.'

Superintendent Leor Giladi added: 'This investigation is at a very early stage. We have recovered an unidentified white powder, so we have taken the precaution of cordoning off the check-in desk at the terminal.

'However, I would like to stress that there is no imminent danger to anyone at the airport and there have been no reports of any injuries as a result of this substance being discovered.


'Tests are being carried out to establish what this substance is and it is right that we take all the necessary precautions. I would not want to speculate about what we have found until those tests have been carried out.


'But I would again stress that there is no cause for anyone to be alarmed and the substance has been made secure.'


article-1245390-07F17D0D000005DC-153_233x423.jpg Warning: The Home Office increased the terror alert level last night ahead of Hilary Clinton's visit to London


Flights departing Terminal 3 were facing delays but arrivals and those leaving other terminals were not affected, the airport said.

Passengers are currently having to check in at Terminal 1 before being bussed back to Terminal 3 in order to depart.


A spokeswoman for the airport said: 'Anyone flying tonight from Terminal 3 should instead check in at Terminal 1.'


It is thought the Home Office's decision to increase the terror alert level last night was prompted by the impending visit by Hilary Clinton.

Professor Richard Bonney believes the arrival of the U.S. Secretary of State in London next week is why the official level has gone from substantial to severe.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced the shift last night. The new level denotes that an attack is 'highly likely' and is the second highest on a five-step scale.

Mrs Clinton and other leading foreign ministers are due in London this Wednesday and Thursday for two major summits on Afghanistan and Yemen.


Also at the meetings will be Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon.


Professor Bonney, from the University of Leicester said: 'I suppose that Hilary Clinton's arrival is the precipitant; but the Afghan conference is a high profile target, given the number of interested players. (Her visit to London) is a very likely, plausible threat.

'It's a high profile target for some groups, those who seek to disrupt any sort of future peace process in Afghanistan in particular.'

Intelligence sources said the decision followed a 'non-specific' warning from the CIA that the UK is facing an increased threat from Al Qaeda.



The terror threat has not been at this level since July last year.


Mr Johnson insisted there was no intelligence to suggest an attack is imminent, but said the public should be 'more aware'.

Prof Bonney said unless there was some other associated threat that intelligence agencies had been made aware of, it was likely the level will drop back to 'substantial' shortly after the conference.

'It may be maintained for a period afterwards but unless there's some other associated threat which we don't know about it's unlikely it would continue for more than a month,' he said.


Prof Bonney said it was unlikely Al Qaeda would be considering an attack, but affiliated groups may be interested in the conference as a target.


'Increasingly we're seeing the fragmentation of groups, and this is why security forces are having difficult controlling the situation and why resources are fully stretched.'

The move underlines the continuing threat to Britain and increased fears around the globe after the failed Christmas Day attack on a plane over Detroit.

The would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was a student in London before apparently going to Yemen for terror training by Al Qaeda.

Abdulmutallab, who was manhandled to the floor of the jet by passengers after trying to blow up explosives hidden in his underpants as the jet came in to land, warned after his arrest that there were 'many more like me' plotting to strike.


Sources reportedly said the Detroit plot was 'one of the factors' behind raising the alert level but that the move was taken after looking at intelligence 'in the round'.

It is thought intelligence agencies working round the clock in the UK to pick up any possible terror plans had spotted an upsurge in 'chatter' on the internet, which is a key indicator of a possible attack.


The UK's official terror threat was at the severe level for four years after the July 7 bombings in London in 2005 but was downgraded last summer.



Mr Johnson said last night: 'The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has today raised the threat to the UK from international terrorism from substantial to severe.

'This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but I should stress that there is no intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent.

'JTAC keeps the threat level under constant review and makes its judgments based on a broad range of factors, including the intent and capabilities of international terrorist groups in the UK and overseas.'

He added: 'We still face a real and serious threat from international terrorism, so I would urge the public to remain vigilant and carry on reporting suspicious events to the appropriate authorities and to support the police and security services in their continuing efforts to discover, track and disrupt terrorist activity.'


article-1245390-07F967B6000005DC-385_468x286.jpg Held: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab


A spokesman from the Metropolitan Police said the service would review its contingency planning and policing tactics following the announcement.


'People who live, work and visit the capital will continue to see a wide selection of policing tactics being used,' he said.


Raising the terror threat level is mainly designed to increase the vigilance of the emergency services and those working in security jobs, another terrorism expert said.


'I think it's not something that the public will notice very much, in terms of everyday life, said Professor Paul Wilkinson, of the University of St Andrews.

'The level of preparedness and vigilance will be increased. The whole idea is to give the various services, including the emergency services, an update on the threat level.


'It is mainly designed for the emergency services, including the police, and people who work in security jobs, for example in airports and sea ports.'


Professor Wilkinson said: 'People should remember that we are not dealing with an old fashioned national terrorist or separatist group, but a form of transnational terrorism, a network which has affiliates in 90 countries - that's half the countries in the world.'


He said the fact that the level was not raised after the Christmas incident indicated that there is not simply a knee jerk reaction.


'They try to examine all the evidence they have about changing trends. We must remember that the security services have been tremendously successful in preventing some of the worst conspiracies.'


Last week, in a statement on the Detroit incident, Gordon Brown told MPs that a number of terror cells were 'actively trying to attack Britain'.


He announced the creation of a new no-fly list of terror suspects, enhanced security screening at airports and the suspension of flights to Yemen.


The independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said the Government was right to announce the change in the threat level.


'It is absolutely essential that there should be public vigilance and the Government has - quite rightly - decided that if you don't tell the public to be vigilant, they are not going to be vigilant,' Lord Carlile told the BBC.


'The message from the current change of assessment is not that we should be more afraid but that we should be a little bit more vigilant than we have been.'


Tory MP Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, said last night it was not surprising the terror threat had been upgraded.


He added: 'The reduced level we have had recently is unusual - we are back to the norm'.

Britain is now on a similar level of alert to the U.S.

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