LONDON (AFP) – Britain foiled an Al-Qaeda plot to fly planes into Heathrow Airport and London’s giant Canary Wharf skyscrapers, a British television news channel said, quoting an unnamed “senior authoritative source”.
Al-Qaeda intended to train suicide pilots to crash planes into the London landmarks just as it had convinced others to fly into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in the United States on September 11, 2001, ITV News said.
“I am told that the plan for an attack on Canary Wharf also involved terrorists who trained as pilots,” said ITV News political editor, Nick Robinson.
“I have not been told how or when it was uncovered or how close they came,” he said. “The terrorists were also plotting, it was claimed, to crash planes into Heathrow Airport.”
“I am in no doubt that this was a genuine feeling on the behalf of those in the security services that they have managed to foil a plot and make us safer,” he added.
When asked if the story had come from Britain’s security services, ITV News told AFP that the “unattributable source” was “in that arena”.
According to the ITV News website, the attack on Heathrow and Canary Wharf was one of four or five planned by Al-Qaeda in Britain since September 11, 2001, which “have come to nothing, after the authorities intervened.”
Britain’s Home Office and London’s Metropolitan Police declined to comment on the report.
The 86-acre Canary Wharf estate, one of the capital’s most famous landmarks in the financial heart of London’s docklands area, has long been seen as a potential terrorist target.
Britain has been on alert since the September 11 attacks in the United States, and even more so following devastating bomb attacks on commuter trains in Madrid this March.
ITV News’s report came the day before Queen Elizabeth II outlines to parliament Prime Minister Tony Blair’s last legislative programme before a general election next year.
It is expected her speech will contain several government proposals on tackling terrorism.
Home Secretary David Blunkett said in an interview on Sunday that Britain is considering sweeping new anti-terrorism laws including special courts to try terror suspects without a jury.
Other measures, to be introduced only if and after Blair’s Labour Party wins a general election expected in mid-2005, would include allowing evidence gained from telephone taps to be used in trials.
ITV News sought to discount the possibility that its “senior authoritative” source had political motivations for disclosing the information at this time.
“There will of course be those who say this is all very convenient on the eve of the queen’s speech, it is playing politics with security,” Robinson said.
“I have known about this information for some days and have been checking it out, and the timing of this revelation is mine and not the government’s,” he said.
“I know that there are a number of people within Downing Street and elsewhere who believe the timing is very inconvenient,” he added.
In February last year, hundreds of police and troops as well as tanks were deployed at Heathrow following a warning that terrorists might be about to attempt a missile attack on a plane.
Blair faced accusations of alarmism following the incident, but the government insisted that the action came in response to specific intelligence.