Foiled attempt to bomb plane may have been terrorist pilot project: public safety minister

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - A Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airplane may have been a "pilot project" for followup attempts by extremists, says Canada's public safety minister.
But Peter Van Loan offered no evidence to back up his theory Tuesday, saying it's best not to discuss specifics.
"We've seen that these terrorist groups tend to go in series, or in sequence events, so that's what we're worried about here," he said.
"We were dealing with kind of a new approach with the technology that was used on Christmas Day. That may very well have been, if you will, a kind of pilot project by the organization to see how viable it was."
His comments followed fresh government warnings of possible air security threats. And it came as the Conservatives defended the no-fly list of banned air passengers despite a hard-hitting internal report that calls for a thorough review of the entire scheme.
Federal officials also provided new details Tuesday about plans to more closely observe people at airports to ferret out threats, and announced plans to spend $1.5 million to strengthen international aviation security.
Canadian airports tightened restrictions - boosting inspections that created long lineups and delayed flights - after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit from Europe by igniting explosives sewn into his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, has pleaded not guilty to six charges. Intelligence officials have scrambled to explain how the man, whose father warned he may be involved with an extremist group, evidently got dangerous materials onto the plane.
Transport Canada issued a notice Saturday saying that in light of the Christmas arrest, all air carriers, airports and screening officers should "continue to exercise increased vigilance" and strictly adhere to all security requirements.
"The government of Canada takes this matter very seriously and, at this point, the department is satisfied that the additional security measures implemented since Dec. 26, 2009, are appropriate to mitigate the identified threat," the notice read.
Asked to elaborate Tuesday, Transport Minister John Baird said the government had "nothing specific or imminent."
"But we have received some information that led security officials and our department to encourage continuing heightened vigilance with our security... It's at medium level, this is not anything like 9-11, but obviously information that we received is a concern."
The vague piecemeal nature of the government warnings prompted Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to call for greater transparency on security issues.
"I don't think things should dribble out. I think Canadians deserve to know what happened last weekend."
There should be a "full and frank discussion" about Canada's no-fly list to ensure everyone knows how it works, he said.
"This affects the civil liberties of Canadians."
Independent consultants hired by the Transport Canada found that Hani Al Telbani, a Montreal-area student, should never have been barred from an Air Canada flight in May 2008 through his addition to the no-fly list.
Though completed in October 2008, the internal report has only now come to light through the Federal Court of Canada, where Al Telbani is challenging the government.
The Transport Department said in a statement Tuesday to The Canadian Press that recommendations to improve the no-fly list process "are taken very seriously," adding: "Our government continues to support the use of the no-fly list."
Transport officials declined to answer followup questions.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has issued a tender for its planned airport behaviour observation program based on "risk-based security principles to screen passengers and identify those with potential malicious intent."
It solicits bids to design the program, recruit and train staff, and develop learning materials in order to have the system in place by the end of May.
And in a speech Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said improvements to international air security, including in developing states, have a direct impact on the safety of Canadians.
He said Canada will contribute $1.5 million over three years to beef up the International Civil Aviation Organization's security plan.

Organizations: Transport Canada, Conservatives, Air Canada Federal Court Transport Department Canadian Press Canadian Air Transport Security Authority International Civil Aviation Organization

Geographic location: Canada, OTTAWA, Detroit Europe Montreal

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