LONDON (Apr. 17)
A young woman was arrested at Heathrow Airport Thursday morning after attempting to board an El Al 747 airliner with a large amount of plastic explosives.
The woman, in her 20’s, described as of “European appearance,” was seized by police after the explosives were found concealed in her luggage at the El Al check-in counter in a secluded part of the airport’s terminal, which was immediately cleared of all passengers. A man who was thought to be with her ran off before he could be detained. He was described as of “Middle Eastern” appearance.
The woman, who was not immediately identified, was trying to board Flight LYO16 bound for Tel Aviv which arrived here from New York. After the explosives were discovered in a false bottom of a suitcase tagged for the aircraft’s cargo hold, flights out of Heathrow were suspended for about 4 1/2 hours.
EL AL GUARD SPOTTED SUSPICIOUS LUGGAGE
Police Superintendent Stewart Higgins said the explosives, weighing about 10 to 20 pounds, contained a timing device “that could have been set to explode at any time.” He credited an El Al security guard with averting a tragedy at the airport. Higgins said the guard “wasn’t happy with the appearance of the luggage. It appears it was discovered through the keen eye of El Al security.” Baggage handlers said the woman was only about 30 yards from boarding the El Al plane when the discovery of the explosives was made.
Later in the day, British police disclosed that the explosives were intended to destroy the aircraft shortly after it left the airport. They said it would have killed the more than 400 passengers and crew aboard and could have caused many casualties on the ground. Police also said that the woman who carried the concealed explosives may have been ignorant of the contents of the luggage given to her by the man who fled. She herself had after she was detained that the man had asked her to do him a favor and to take the luggage with her to Tel Aviv.
FEARS OF RENEWED TERRORIST INCIDENTS
The incident heightened fears that Britain as well as the United States will become the target of renewed terrorist incidents following the U.S. air strike against Libya on Monday. The Heathrow Airport incident coincided with Thursday morning’s rocket attacks on the British Ambassador’s residence in west Beirut and the discovery of three bodies believed to be those of kidnapped Britons.
Fears of anti-British terrorism were sounded Wednesday night in a heated debate in Parliament over Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s decision to permit U.S. F-111 bombers to operate from British air bases in their foray against Libya.
Although the government won a comfortable majority at the end of the six-hour debate, its support for President Reagan’s tough action was criticized by several of its own opposition members, including former Prime Minister Edward Heath, as well as members of the Labor Party.
Many of the politicians who criticized Thatcher in the debate argued that Middle East terrorism could only be eradicated by a settlement of the Palestinian issue acceptable to the Arabs, and that the attack on Libya made the Mideast conflict more intractable, undermined British security, and weakened its influence in the area.
Heath, the Conservative Prime Minister at the time of the Yom Kippur War, claimed credit for the fact that at that time he refused to let the Americans use British bases in Cyprus to help the beleaguered Israelis in the early stages of the war. Supporters of Thatcher reminded Heath that he had also been an important member of the Conservative government of the late Sir Anthony Eden which in 1956 launched the Suez operation against Egypt, much to the anger of the United States.