- Wrapped presents were banned at America's airports yesterday
as the nation was gripped by fear of Millennium terrorists. A bomb scare
in the office of the nation's most senior military officer increased the
tension. Queues lengthened at security gates in all of America's major
airports as authorities imposed stricter checks than usual.
- All bags were subject to search, dogs trained to sniff
out explosives were pressed into service and passengers were warned not
to wrap presents until they reached their destination.
- In Washington, a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet was delayed
by an hour at Dulles airport as the FBI searched it. A crew member had
found a paper napkin with "a one-word note" on board. The search
revealed nothing. At the Pentagon, the offices of the chairman of the joint
chiefs of staff, Gen Hugh Shelton, were evacuated after a suspicious package
- It turned out to be a false alarm, a bag with wires poking
out left behind by a workman on Monday. The fact that it had been found
at all was indicative of a heightened level of security. The contractor
accidentally left it in the gap above a false ceiling less than 12 hours
before its discovery.
- The mounting concerns stem from a State Department alert
issued earlier this month and repeated on Tuesday to Americans travelling
abroad. It warns of potential attacks by terrorists linked to Osama bin
Laden, the exiled Saudi multi-millionaire. Customs officers in Washington
state last week arrested an Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, as he drove across
the border from Canada in a car carrying enough explosive to make four
- Court papers allege that Ressam has links to the Groupe
Islamic Armée, an Algerian terrorist organisation. On Saturday,
Bouabide Chamchi, another Algerian, carrying a fake French passport, was
detained on the other side of the country as he tried to cross into Vermont
from Canada. The woman with him is known to have tried to drive in with
a man with Pakistani papers last week and crossed the border with another
Algerian man before that.
- Immigration officers and the FBI are trying to discover
whether Lucia Garofalo was involved in smuggling illegal aliens into America
or whether there is a terrorism link to the case. The reaction of sniffer
dogs indicated that the car Garofalo and Chamchi were driving in may have
once carried explosives, although nothing was found. So far, the two cases
have not been linked.
- An extra 350 customs and immigration officers have been
put on duty at the Canadian border and precautions at all 301 points of
entry into America have been strengthened. International counter-terrorist
activity has increased as well. In addition to the arrests of 14 alleged
terrorists with links to bin Laden in Jordan this month and the detention
of up to 80 men, mainly Afghans, in Pakistan, police in Dublin raided three
houses and arrested five North Africans.
- The men, an Algerian, two Egyptians and two Libyans,
were later released without charge.