Britain Lowers Terrorist Threat Level

Britain has lowered its security threat level, but warned that there is still a strong likelihood of a terrorist attack. The ban on carry-on luggage for airline passengers was also relaxed somewhat.

Home Secretary John Reid said the threat level had been lowered one grade from "critical", the highest level in Britain, to "severe", which is where it was last week before the exposure of a terrorist plot. But he stressed that does not mean that the terrorist threat has evaporated.

"The public needs to know that there may be other people out there who may be planning to attack against the United Kingdom. That is why there are a number of security service operations under way," he said. "There is still a very serious threat of an attack. The threat level is at 'severe' indicating the high likelihood of an attempted terrorist attack at some stage."

The threat level was raised last Thursday after authorities arrested 24 people in connection with an alleged plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Police said the plotters planned to smuggle liquid explosives aboard the aircraft and detonate them during flight.

In the wake of the plot's exposure, British authorities banned virtually all hand baggage and ordered intensified hand searches of all air passengers. The stringent new measures wreaked havoc with travelers, creating long lines in airports and the cancellation or delay of many flights.

Some of those rules have been relaxed. Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said passengers will now be allowed to bring the equivalent of a medium-sized briefcase on board and, to the relief of many a business traveler, electronic items such as laptop computers.

"It should be sufficient for you to carry books, magazines, or other such items for your journey. Electronic devices such as personal stereos and laptops will be permitted, but these will be subjected to screening before you board," Alexander said. "The smaller baggage size will make it easier for security staff to search your bag, and make it more difficult for terrorists to hide something dangerous."

Passengers still cannot bring beverages or other liquids, except for baby formula or liquid prescription medicine. But items purchased after passing through security, such as those for sale in duty-free shops, are again allowed on board except for U.S.-bound flights, where a total ban remains in place.

Transport Secretary Alexander said inconvenience will be inevitable as the new security regimen settles into place.

"I accept that it will involve additional effort on the part of the airlines and airports, and some degree of inconvenience for passengers," he said. "But, in conclusion, I realize that the present difficulties at our airports may continue for some time as the new procedures are implemented."

There was still considerable disruption of British air traffic, especially at Heathrow, the country's largest and busiest airport as passengers and airlines scrambled to reschedule travel.