A “resurgent” Al Qaeda is looking to carry out terror attacks on passenger planes and airports, UK Security Minister Ben Wallace has warned following the widespread chaos at the country’s Gatwick Airport over multiple drone sightings that triggered security concerns and led to numerous flight cancellations.
In an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Times, Wallace said Al Qaeda — the group behind the World Trade Centre attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in the US on September 11, 2001 — “still aspires for aviation attacks” and was developing technology to bring down airliners.
“The aviation threat is real. Al Qaeda have reorganized. They are pushing more and more plots towards Europe and have become familiar with the new methods,” he said.
The rise of the Islamic State overshadowed the Al Qaeda threat in recent years — particularly after its most prominent leader, Osama bin Laden, was taken down by the US forces in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011.
But Wallace said the danger had never truly diminished. “Al Qaeda sat quietly in the corner and tried to work out what the 21st century looked like while IS became the latest terrorist boy band.”
“But they have not gone away,” he said.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates are now active in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and other countries in the Middle East under a new generation of leaders. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s former deputy, is still its spiritual head.
Wallace said improvements in airport security meant terrorists were less likely to smuggle explosive through terminal security systems.
“They have explored other ways of getting bombs on planes. We’ve talked publicly about an insider threat issue. If you can’t get in the front door, you’re going to try to get in the back door,” he told the Times.
Wallace said British intelligence chiefs were concerned about US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out troops from Syria and said that it will create a “new safe haven for Islamists to launch attacks on the West.”
Wallace’s statements came amid several drone sightings at Gatwick Airport over the weekend that triggered a security concern and led dozens of flights to be cancelled.
However, according to the British authorities, the incident was not terror-related.