LONDON – British Airways (search) on Wednesday suspended flights to Saudi Arabia (search) due to heightened security concerns, two days after Saudi officials broke up a terror cell that was plotting an attack on a British plane, a senior Saudi official said Wednesday.
Britain's Department for Transport said it had received "credible intelligence of a serious threat to U.K. aviation interests in Saudi Arabia." It did not elaborate.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. State Department cited the potential for further terrorist attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia and urged Americans to exercise extra caution in the Persian Gulf region. That was an update of an alert issued last month.
Adel al-Jubeir (search), a Saudi foreign policy adviser, confirmed that the terrorist cell was planning some sort of an attack against a British plane.
"It was obvious the target was a British airlines aircraft," al-Jubeir said in a televised interview without elaborating on the evidence.
Al-Jubeir said he was confident, however, that the terrorists would not have been successful because of increased security at airports throughout the kingdom.
"Our airports in Saudi Arabia are very secure and we are determined to keep them that way," al-Jubeir said.
The suspension of British Airways flights followed discussions Wednesday with the government transport department, said the airline, which normally operates four flights a week to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and four a week to Jiddah.
"As a matter of precaution we have decided to suspend all flights to Saudi Arabia for the time being," said Geoff Want, the airline's director of safety and security.
On Monday, Saudi police arrested 10 militants who allegedly belonged to a terrorist cell planning to attack a British target, according to another Saudi government official who did not identify the target. The Saudi government has been cracking down on Islamic militants since May 12 suicide attacks in Riyadh killed 26 people and nine attackers.
Saudi police have stepped up efforts to crush networks of Al Qaeda, the terror network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks and the Riyadh bombings.
Britain's Foreign Office has warned against travel to the kingdom except on essential business. In its latest travel advisory posted Aug. 6, the Foreign Office noted the May 12 attacks in Riyadh.
"Further large or small scale attacks against Western interests in Saudi Arabia remain likely," it said.
On May 15, The British government imposed a ban on commercial flights to Kenya because of a "credible" terrorist threat in the East African nation, the scene of past attacks blamed on Al Qaeda. That was lifted June 26, after security in Nairobi had improved and British Airways resumed its flights soon after.
Saudi Arabia relies greatly on its population of 6 million expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans and about 30,000 Britons, in its communications, power, technology, banking and other sectors. The kingdom counts on many U.S. experts for its oil industry.
The Foreign Office said Wednesday it would be "drawing the British Airways announcement to the attention of the British community in Saudi Arabia."
Prince Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, issued a statement Wednesday night saying, "These are normal precautions taken when there is a security alert, wherever it is in the world.
"The threat is specifically to U.K. aviation interests. Saudi Airlines has offered to British Airways to take any passengers from or to the kingdom in their stead."
Flight suspensions are not unprecedented.
The British government banned commercial flights to Kenya on May 15 because of a "credible" terrorist threat in the country. That was lifted June 26, after security in Nairobi had improved and British Airways resumed its flights soon after.