You probably remember Richard Reid, a British born man who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and was later given three life sentences in federal prison, plus 110 years, with no possibility of parole.
On December 22nd, 2001, Reid boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami with explosives packed into his shoes, which he attempted to detonate while in flight. The explosives failed to go off and passengers subdued Reid while the plane was diverted to Boston.
As you know, when flying these days, unless you are TSA PreCheck, you are required to remove your shoes when passing through security, which is no doubt a result of Mr. Reid and his failed attempt to detonate a bomb on an airplane.
The thing is, most people are familiar with Mr. Reid and why we remove our shoes, however, do you know the story of why we can’t take liquids on an airplane anymore?
It all started in 2006, when U.S. and British authorities exposed a complex terrorism plan commonly referred to as the Transatlantic Liquid Bomb Plot.
The plan was to be carried out by over two-dozen terrorists who planned to smuggle plastic bottles filled with liquid explosives onto seven commercial airliners departing from London’s Heathrow Airport and traveling to North America.
These terrorists planned to detonate these bombs on at least seven large airplanes, with each carrying hundreds of passengers, meaning this terrorist attack could have taken more lives than 9/11.
According to former CIA Chief of European Operations, Mark Kelton, “If the bombs had gone off over a populated area, the casualties would have gone up exponentially.”
This all began to unfold in February 2006, when British intelligence intercepted a phone call between al-Qaeda jihadists in Pakistan, led by Rashid Rauf, and a British citizen by the name of Abdulla Ahmed Ali, who was believed to have set up training for some of the terrorists involved in previous attacks.
This one phone call led British officials to uncover a terrorist cell in the U.K. made up of 18 suicide bombers, who later planned to carry out the attack on airplanes.
Once British intelligence intercepted the phone call, Operation Overt began, which included over 1,000 members of the intelligence community from the U.S. and Britain who immediately began surveillance on the terrorist cell in Britain.
At one point, a surveillance team witnessed one member of the group, Assad Sarwar, purchase a large quantity of hydrogen peroxide. He transported the liquid to a home in East London owned by Abdulla Ahmed Ali.
Inside the home in East London, officials discovered an actual bomb factory. Officials installed cameras and listening devices in the residence to monitor all activity carried out by the terrorist cell.
The terrorist’s plan was to fill plastic soda bottles with hydrogen peroxide and then carry with them an explosive compound called HMTD, which was placed in hollowed-out AA batteries, then use the flash from a disposable camera to trigger the bomb.
The plan was to bring the items separately and then assemble them onboard.
Around August 2006, the leader of the group, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and a few of his co-conspirators were observed conducting a test run at Heathrow Airport to study security checkpoints and see if they would have any issues getting their bomb parts through security.
At this point, British Intelligence wanted to continue to develop more evidence, however the CIA gathered intel that Rashid Rauf, who was in Pakistan, would be traveling on a certain route and that this might be the best chance to capture him.
After the CIA successfully captured Rauf, British authorities raided the East London home and found enough material to produce 20 bombs, along with information detailing seven transatlantic flights on United Airlines, Air Canada and American Airlines.
The destination for the targeted flights included San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
After the successful raid in East London, all 18 members of the terrorist cell in Britain were arrested with seven of them being convicted on charges related to carrying out the attacks onboard the seven airplanes.
There is no question this was a huge blow to al-Qaeda and the fact is, our intelligence community, along with partners abroad, have made it incredibly difficult for terrorists to execute plans of this magnitude and continue to thwart attacks all of the time.
As I mentioned earlier, we know why we are required to remove our shoes while going through security and now you know why you have to pay $7 for a bottle of water at the airport, since you are only allowed 3.4 ounces of liquid.
Of course, since terrorists will continually try to destroy our freedom and they like to use airplanes to do it, you and I need to continue to be vigilant.
When you are on an airplane always have a way to defend yourself (I carry a tactical pen and small tactical flashlight) and pay attention to what’s going on and anything suspicious you see onboard.
Lastly, remember that if you do see someone about to explode a bomb or doing something horrendous, you can’t just sit there and watch, you have to get out of your seat and go take them down.