Flaming SUV rams Scottish airport

The Glasgow attack comes a day after two car bombs were found in London.

Published July 1, 2007

GLASGOW, Scotland - In Gordon Brown's first days in office, a flaming jeep rammed into an airport terminal in his Scottish homeland, bomb squads darted across London to defuse explosives-laden cars, and the government issued a chilling warning that further attacks are imminent.

The attempted attacks in London and Glasgow, which police say were linked, signaled the possibility of a coordinated campaign to derail Brown's new government. One expert said terrorists may have chosen to strike Scotland to deliver a personal message to the new prime minister, who is fiercely proud of his Scottish upbringing.

The green Jeep Cherokee shattered glass doors at Glasgow Airport's terminal entrance Saturday, stopping within yards of travelers at check-in counters. The driver and passenger - one of whom was ablaze head to toe - were arrested, and five bystanders were injured, none seriously.

The chaos in Britain over the past two days has also raised fears that the type of car bomb attacks commonplace in Iraq have reached Europe. Late Saturday, Britain raised its security alert to critical, the highest possible level, indicating more attacks may be imminent.

Saturday's incident came after police foiled a car bomb plot early Friday in central London, discovering explosives packed into a Mercedes outside a nightclub near Piccadilly Circus and another Mercedes parked nearby.

Glasgow police Chief Willie Rae said the incidents were connected and that a "suspect device" was found on a man wrestled to the ground by officers at the airport and hospitalized with severe burns. Rae would not say if the device found on the man was a suicide belt.

Police later arrested two more suspects in the plots in Cheshire county in northern England, Scotland Yard said Sunday.

"We believe the incident at Glasgow airport is linked to the events in London yesterday, " Rae said. "There are clearly similarities, and we can confirm that this is being treated as a terrorist incident."

One British security official said methods used in the airport attack and Friday's thwarted plots in London were similar, with all three vehicles carrying large quantities of flammable materials.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Police and the British intelligence agency MI5 had no warning of a plan to attack Scotland, but they have monitored suspected terrorists and plots there, he said. It was not yet clear whether there was an international element to the planning or funding of the attacks, the official said.

The new terror threat presents Brown with an enormous challenge just three days after taking office, and comes at a time of already heightened vigilance ahead of the anniversary of the July 7, 2005, London transit attacks.

"I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong, " Brown said Saturday in a televised statement. He defended raising the alert level, which has not been at critical since the August 2006 plot to blow up several trans-Atlantic flights.

David Capitanchik, a terrorism expert at Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, Scotland, said Glasgow could have been selected for an attack because Brown now leads the country - and referred to his upbringing there as he took office.

"Gordon Brown has made a deal about his school, his constituency and so on, " he said. "So Scotland becomes more of a target than it ever was."

One former top British security official said terrorists also appeared to be trying to take advantage of the inexperience of the new government.

"This is a very young government, and we may yet see further attacks. ... We are seeing a pattern of attack in the early days of a new government, " Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Britain's joint intelligence committee, told Sky News television.

President Bush was being kept informed of the situation, the White House said. "We're in contact with British authorities on the matter, " said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, in Washington.

The Jeep sped toward Glasgow's main airport terminal shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the glass doors and erupting into an orange fireball, witnesses said.

Associated Press photographs from the scene showed the car hit the building at an angle and was poking into the terminal. The Jeep struck the building directly in front of check-in counters, where dozens of passengers were lined up, police said.

Lynsey McBean, a witness at the terminal, said the driver kept trying to push the car forward after it got stuck, and "the wheels were spinning and smoke was coming from them."

She said one of the men then took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured a liquid under the car. "He then set light to it, " said McBean, 26, from Erskine, Scotland.

Police subdued the driver and a passenger, both described by witnesses as South Asian - a term used to refer to people from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in flames and spoke "gibberish" as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.

Glasgow police spokeswoman Elisa Dunn said five bystanders were treated for injuries.

The airport was evacuated and all flights suspended. Police said Liverpool Airport and roads around Edinburgh were also closed.

Meanwhile in London, police were gathering evidence from closed circuit television footage, as forensics experts searched for clues into the foiled car bombings. The two Mercedes cars had been loaded with gasoline, gas canisters and nails in one of the capital's busiest areas on a night when Londoners like to go out and party.

Detectives said they were keeping an open mind about the bombers' identities, but terrorism experts said the signs pointed to a cell linked to or inspired by al-Qaida.