Claims To Have Busted Up Missile Import Scheme
unprecedented investigation by American, British and Russian
authorities has netted one arrest in a plot to ship SAMs to the
United States. More arrests are expected.
A senior law enforcement official who doesn't want to be quoted
tells the BBC that the British subject, whose name and specific
charges are so far unannounced, was arrested in Newark (NJ).
There's no immediate confirmation that the suspect has ties with
Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. The Justice Department won't
yet comment on the case.
The Bush administration has been mightily worried about the
possibility of missile attacks against commercial aircraft since
November, when two man-portable missiles were fired at an Israeli
jetliner departing Mombasa, Kenya. Since then, the US has sent
aviation safety teams to airports all over the world, with major
inspections complete or close to completion in cities like Iraq's
Baghdad and Basra, Manila, Athens and Istanbul.
World leaders, at a June meeting in France, acknowledged the
threat and promised to tighten restrictions on arm sales. Already,
the Department of Homeland Security in Washington wants
high-technology companies to come up with a countermeasures
capability for civilian commercial aircraft, similar to the one
used on Air Force One.
The BBC reports the wide-ranging investigation was part of a
worldwide sting operation. The suspect, according to British
broadcast reports, was able to bring a Russian Igla surface-to-air
missile and was supposedly trying to sell it to a Muslim radical.
He reportedly bought the SAM from a corrupt factory manager in
Russia for $85,000. The missile was said to have been delivered
with a promise for 50 more just like it.
Even though no terrorists are
thought to have been involved in the smuggling scheme, American
officials say it's a horrifying example of just how vulnerable the
civilian air traffic system is to missile attacks. Russian secret
services reportedly first detected the suspect in St. Petersburg
five months ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported to
have authorized the presence of an undercover FBI agent on its soil
to assist in the multi-national investigation.
The BBC reports the suspect arrived in New York Sunday aboard a
BA flight from Heathrow. He was reportedly followed aboard the
plane and kept watch over until the time he was arrested in New
Jersey. He's thought to be a recognized arms merchant with a
residence in London.