Officials Defend Airport Security With AM-Crash, Bjt
FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ Authorities said Thursday they had been warned weeks ago that terrorists threatened to smuggle a bomb aboard a Pan Am jet, and they defended the security arrangements at the Frankfurt Airport.
Airport officials said they tightened security after the threats. Authorities also indicated a passenger would have to board an aircraft in order to ensure that explosives-laden luggage could be loaded on the plane.
Questions about security at the airport and whether adequate warnings were given about terrorist threats were raised Thursday after a Boeing 747 crashed into a village in southwest Scotland on Wednesday night, killing all aboard.
Flight 103 originated on a Boeing 727 in Frankfurt. It flew to London, where the flight is transferred to a Boeing 747. The four-engine jumbo jet was in the air 54 minutes when it vanished from radar screens at 7:19 p.m. (2:19 p.m. EST) on Wednesday.
The plane had been bound for New York. Once there, it was to continue on to Detroit, on a Boeing 727.
The International Air Transport Association said Thursday that sabotage was ″the most likely″ explanation for the crash in the town of Lockerbie.
A Hesse state official said he doubted a bomb could have been placed aboard the flight before it took off from Frankfurt.
″We have no indication there was a lapse in security″ at Frankfurt Airport, Thomas Pier, an official with the Hesse Economics Ministry, said on the ARD-TV network Thursday. The Economics Ministry is responsible for air traffic in Hesse state.
Hans Neusel, state secretary at the federal Interior Ministry, told the ARD ″we don’t believe there are any soft spots in security″ at Frankfurt airport.
″We do everything we can to minimize security risks,″ he said.
Neusel indicated it would be difficult for someone to put a bomb on board the plane at Frankfurt without boarding the aircraft himself.
″No luggage would be flown for a passenger who has not appeared for boarding,″ Neusel said in an ARD interview.
Harald Kosel, a Pan Am spokesman in Frankfurt, indicated that it would be unlikely for a passenger to have left the plane in London while baggage was transferred to the Boeing 747 for the flight to New York.
″I think that’s out of the question,″ Kosel said. He said Pan Am had developed a system that makes sure passengers are on board if their luggage is on board.
Frankfurt airport officials tightened security at Pan Am after receiving tips earlier this month that a bomb might be smuggled aboard one of the carrier’s jets, the airport’s security chief said Thursday.
The official, Horst Harnstein, said the tips were ″for the transportation of a bomb from Frankfurt heading in the direction of the United States.″
″There were indications in that direction,″ Harnstein said in a telephone interview. ″As a result, we stepped up security measures for Pan Am.″
″There were solid indications that it was to be Pan Am,″ Harnstein added. The International Air Transport Association said it believed sabotage is the most likely explanation for the crash.
″We were struck by the similarity of this accident and the Air India 747 that came down in June 1985″ off the Irish coast after a bomb exploded that had been put aboard by a terrorist, said agency spokesman David Kyd.
U.S. government and airline industry officials acknowledged that they received a threat in early December that Pan Am might be a target of a terrorist attack. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an ″intelligence alert″ on Dec. 5 warning that there might be a bombing attempt against a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt.
State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said that on that day an anonymous caller told the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki that ″an unidentified person in Helsinki would unwittingly take the device to Frankfurt and eventually onto the U.S.-bound flight.″
Another source said the caller claimed the bomb would be carried by a woman.
Ms. Oakley said the caller targeted Pan Am and told the embassy that individuals who would provide the device have ties to Abu Nidal, leader of a radical Palestinian faction.
The Finnish Foreign Ministry said an Arab resident had made several bomb threats during the year, most recently on Dec. 5, but that ″in the investigation so far, no direct connection has been found between the Arab living in Finland and the air accident in question.″
The statement said authorities knew the caller’s identity and that he had not left Finland since Dec. 5.