Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Gordon Brown orders airport security review

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
The PM's article on terror threats is on the Downing Street website

The UK will "move quickly" to enhance airport security after the "wake-up call" of the failed Detroit plane attack, the prime minister says.

Gordon Brown said he had ordered a review of existing security measures, and advisers would report within days.

Full-body scanners would be among the new technologies considered, he said.

He also said the alleged plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had studied in London, had linked up with al-Qaeda in Yemen after leaving the UK.

A former close friend of Mr Abdulmutallab has also told the BBC he believes he was radicalised after leaving the country in 2008.

Qasim Rafiq knew the suspect for three years at University College London, and preceded him as president of its Islamic Society.

He says Mr Abdulmutallab had shown no signs of violent extremism while living in the UK.

'New techniques'

Nigerian-born Mr Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate a bomb on a flight as it came in to land in Detroit on Christmas Day.

Only one item of hand luggage, including items bought airside
BA and Virgin Atlantic not charging to check in extra hand luggage
Passengers subject to "pat-down" searches before boarding, on top of usual security checks
Customers to remain seated during final hour of flight
No access to hand luggage and a ban on leaving possessions or blankets on laps during this hour

The 23-year-old allegedly attempted to ignite explosives stored in his underpants. He had flown from Lagos to Amsterdam before changing planes for a flight to Detroit.

In a post on the Downing Street website on Friday, Mr Brown said it had been "another wake-up call for the ongoing battles we must wage, not just for security against terror but for the hearts and minds of a generation".

The prime minister said al-Qaeda and its associates had developed how to conceal explosives.

"We need to continually explore the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying explosives, guns, knives and other such items anywhere on the body," he said.

"We will examine a range of new techniques to enhance airport security systems beyond the traditional measures, such as pat-down searches and sniffer dogs.

"These could include advancing our use of explosive trace technology, full-body scanners and advanced X-ray technology."

US President Barack Obama has also ordered a review of air security, and Mr Brown said the UK would work alongside the US and other partners to "move things forward quickly".

The prime minister said he had ordered the review of measures, including those for transit passengers, on Monday.

Photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab supplied by US officials (28 December 2009)
If I could speak to him now I would ask him 'What is it that drove you down this road because you were not like this when I knew you?'
Qasim Rafiq
University friend of Mr Abdulmutallab

The attempted bomb attack has reopened the debate on body scanners, which produce "naked" images of passengers and are being trialled at Manchester Airport.

Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, said such scanners were not the only solution and profiling passengers was the best way to prevent terrorist acts.

"We've got to face the fact that you can build a bomb in the duty free shop, after you've gone through screening.

"Bearing that in mind, we need to look at what people's intent is, not what they are carrying on their person.

"Everybody can be part of the profiling solution, from the check-in agent through to the air crew member that is seeing passengers as they get on board the aircraft."

Sally Lievesly, of NewRisk, which advises companies and governments on how to deal with terrorist threats, said the solutions being examined are not all based on cutting-edge technology.

Airports could use sniffer dogs to detect explosives and "new procedures for hand searching may actually be quite effective," she added.

Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said while security was taken seriously, "lessons of the recent past" must still be learned.

"Any response to terrorism has to be proportionate and respectful of the human rights values of dignity, privacy and liberty that governments on both sides of the Atlantic have been all too easily tempted to ignore," she said.

'Fortress Britain'

Mr Brown said the UK had one of the "toughest borders in the world" and although Mr Abdulmutallab was on a watch-list and had not been allowed into Britain, it did not "lead us to any complacency".

"It is because we cannot win through a fortress Britain strategy that we have to take on extremists wherever they are based: in Afghanistan, Pakistan and all around the world, including here in Britain," he added.

Graphic showing how a ProVision Whole Body Imager, or scanner, works

He warned Britain needed to "remain vigilant" over the radicalisation of young, vulnerable people abroad and in the UK but that the majority of young people and Muslims in Britain rejected extremism.

Mr Brown said Yemen was "both an incubator and potential safe haven for terrorism".

"Pushed out of Afghanistan and increasingly dispersed over the mountains of Pakistan, al-Qaeda's affiliates and allies - in ungoverned or under-governed areas like parts of Yemen, The Sahel and Somalia - have raised their profile," he said.

He said the UK was already one of Yemen's leading donors and it was increasing support to its government through intelligence assistance, training of counter-terrorism units and development programmes.

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