The threat level was raised from "substantial" — where it had stood since July to indicate a strong possibility of a terrorist attack — to "severe," meaning such an attack is considered highly likely.Officials aren't saying specifically what caused them to increase the level, but it likely has to do with intel coming in regarding al Qaeda, including that which underwear bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab had told investigators. ABC News claims that Mutallab has provided information about who else was at the terror training camps he attended, and that al Qaeda may be trying to get female suicide bombers onto flights in an attempt to thwart profiling measures.
In making the announcement, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the raised security level means that Britain is heightening its vigilance. But he stressed that there was no intelligence suggesting an attack is imminent.
"The highest security alert is `critical,' and that means an attack is imminent, and we are not at that level," he said on British television.
Johnson declined to say what intelligence the change was based on, or whether the move was related to the failed Christmas bombing attempt, when U.S. authorities say a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab, who allegedly had links to extremists based in Yemen, had studied as a university student in London.
One official said at least two of them are believed to be connected to al Qaeda in Yemen, and may have a non-Arab appearance and be traveling on Western passports.Al Qaeda has always sought out the spectacular terror attack, and taking down another airplane would be a coup on their part. While they could just as easily go after the train system in Europe or subways here in the US with deadly consequences, they're still fixated on taking down airlines. We have to hope that we can gather sufficient intel, put it in the hands of those who can act on it in a timely fashion, and prevent these terrorists from carrying out their deadly plans.
The threat was described as "current" but not imminent, said the official.
"They have trained women," said former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant.