Published June 30, 2007
| Associated Press
GLASGOW, Scotland – A Jeep Cherokee trailing a cascade of flames rammed into Glasgow airport on Saturday, shattering glass doors just yards from passengers at the check-in counters. Police said they believed the attack was linked to two car bombs found in London the day before.
Britain raised its terror alert to "critical" — the highest possible level — and the Bush administration announced plans to increase security at airports and on mass transit.
Five bystanders were wounded, though none seriously, police said.
One of the men in the car was in critical condition at a hospital with severe burns, while the other was in police custody, said Scottish Police Chief Constable Willie Rae. He said a "suspect device" was found on the man at the hospital and it was taken to a safe location where it was being investigated.
Rae would not say whether the device was a suicide belt. British security officials said evidence pointed toward the Glasgow attack being a suicide mission.
"I can confirm that we believe the incident at Glasgow airport is linked to the events in London yesterday," Rae said. "There are clearly similarities and we can confirm that this is being treated as a terrorist incident."
Police foiled the plot Friday after two cars were found in central London packed with explosives — one outside a nightclub near Piccadilly Circus and another parked nearby.
A British government security official said the methods used in the airport attack and Friday's thwarted plots were similar, with all three vehicles carrying large quantities of flammable materials.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Police and MI5 had no specific intelligence warning of a plan to attack Scotland, but they have monitored a host of suspected terrorists and plots there, he said. It was not yet clear whether there was an international element to the planning or funding of the attacks, the official said.
The new terror threat presents Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot who took office on Wednesday, with an enormous challenge and comes at a time of already heightened vigilance one week before the anniversary of the July 7 London transit attacks, which killed 52 people.
"I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong," Brown said Saturday in a televised statement.
President Bush was being kept informed of the situation, the White House said. "We're in contact with British authorities on the matter," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, in Washington.
The green Jeep barreled toward Glasgow's main airport terminal shortly after 3 p.m. Leeson said bollards — security posts outside the entrance — stopped the driver from driving into the bustling terminal, but the nose of the vehicle smashed the glass doors.
"If he'd got through, he'd have killed hundreds, obviously," he said.
AP photographs from the scene showed the car hit the building at an angle and was poking into the terminal. The Jeep struck the building directly in front of check-in counters, where dozens of passengers were lined up, police said.
Lynsey McBean, a witness at the terminal, said the driver kept trying to push the car forward after it got stuck, and "the wheels were spinning and smoke was coming from them."
She said one of the men then took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured a liquid under the car. "He then set light to it," said McBean, 26, from Erskine, Scotland.
Police subdued the driver and a passenger, both described by witnesses as South Asian — a term used to refer to people from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. The previous round of terrorist activity in Britain, in July 2005, was largely carried out by local Muslims, raising ethnic tensions in Britain.
Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in flames and spoke "gibberish" as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.
Glasgow police spokeswoman Elisa Dunn said five bystanders were treated for injuries — one of whom was hospitalized with a leg injury.
The airport was evacuated and all flights suspended. Police said Liverpool Airport and roads around Edinburgh were also closed.
The attack left passengers shaken and stranded on the first day of summer vacation for Glasgow schools. At the time of the crash, the airport was bustling with families heading out on vacation.
Meanwhile in London, police were gathering evidence from closed circuit television footage, as forensics experts searched for clues into the foiled bombings. The two Mercedes cars had been loaded with gasoline, gas canisters and nails in one of the capital's busiest areas on a night when Londoners like to go out and party. Security officials and police denied an ABC News report that they had a "crystal clear" picture of one suspect from CCTV footage.
The vehicles were found abandoned in the early hours of Friday in what police believe was an attempt to kill scores or even hundreds of people. Detectives said they were keeping an open mind about the bombers' identities, but terrorism experts said the signs pointed to a cell linked to or inspired by al-Qaida.
One car was abandoned outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket in the heart of London's entertainment district. The other had been towed after being parked illegally on nearby Cockspur Street and was discovered in an impound lot about a mile away in Park Lane, near Hyde Park.
London police said extra officers were being deployed at landmarks, airports, train stations and bus terminals across the capital Sunday, and had been ordered to step up the use of stop and search powers. Armed police would patrol at major rail stations, it said.
At least 450 officers would monitor a rock concert at London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, police said.
Brown came to office pledging to win back the support of voters disenchanted over the Iraq war. But he backed Tony Blair's decision to send troops to Iraq in 2003 and has shown support for greater anti-terror measures that have angered Britain's some 1.8 million Muslims.
The airport incident carried reminders of a foiled plot in December 1999 to attack Los Angeles International Airport, when customs agents stopped an Algerian-born man in a car packed with 124 explosives. He was jailed for 22 years and prosecutors said he was intent on bombing the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium.