LAX (CBSLA.com/AP) — The Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that security is being tightened at U.S. international airports, including LAX where 250 to 300 international flights pass through daily, in the wake of the Russian jetliner crash over Egypt six days ago.
The agency said the changes will include expanded security screening of items on commercial jets from certain overseas airports, security assessments and offers of security assistance to foreign airports.
According to CBS News, a security lapse at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt may have let a terrorist slip a bomb onto Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200 on Oct. 31, when it broke up over Egyt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.
“The fear that some luggage, cargo could slip through and affect a U.S. carrier or some aircraft headed for the U.S. is very real,” said CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate.
Travel expert and writer for Aviation Week Brian Sumers said people traveling in the U.S. probably won’t see a huge difference during the holidays. But if you are going abroad, that is a different story.
“It’s in places that are a little more dicey. People are going to Cairo, for example, you can fly from Cairo to New York. That’s when you would expect may be a lot longer waits at security,” Sumers said.
According to Sumers, one major security challenge facing international airports is the people who have direct access to the planes. “A lot of people who work at airports in the United States just come to work every day and don’t go through the same security the passengers do,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he can’t discuss the full details of these new security measures at foreign airports. But in a written statement, he said “I want to assure the traveling public that the Department of Homeland Security is working closely with our domestic and international partners to evaluate the cause of the crash of Flight 9268, and will continue to take appropriate precautionary security measures.”
“I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board,” Pres. Obama said in an interview with KIRO radio. “We’re taking that very seriously. We’re going to spend a lot of time just making sure that our own investigators and our own intelligence community figures out exactly what’s going on before we make any definitive pronouncements.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that all British flights to and from the Sinai Peninsula have been grounded due to “intelligence and information” that points to a bomb as the probable cause of the crash.
Now, the investigation is focused on who had access to the plane before it took off. Russia said that it will suspend all flights to Egypt until security is improved at its airports.
Russia’s federal aviation agency said airlines would be allowed to send empty planes to bring home travelers. But it was unclear when the Russians in Egypt, estimated to number at least 40,000, would be able to return home as planned from the Red Sea resorts including Sharm el-Sheikh.
A faction of the Islamic State militant group claimed to have downed Flight 9268 in retaliation for Moscow’s airstrikes that began a month earlier against fighters in Syria. The claim was initially dismissed on the grounds that the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt’s troubled Sinai region didn’t have missiles capable of hitting high-flying planes.
Russia appeared unwilling to countenance the possibility, and Egyptian officials played down terrorism as a cause of the crash, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi calling the claim “propaganda” designed to embarrass his government.
Wreckage from the Metrojet plane was brought to Moscow to be tested for any trace of explosives, according to Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov.
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