The terror scheme disrupted in London is "suggestive of an al-Qaida plot," the Bush administration said Thursday as it issued its highest terrorism alert ever for commercial flights from Britain to the United States and raised the threat level for all domestic and international flights.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said there was no indication of plotting in the United States but said officials cannot assume that the terror operation in Britain had been completely thwarted.
The administration raised the threat level for flights from Britain to "red," designating a severe risk of terrorist attacks. All other flights, including all domestic flights in the United States, were put under an "orange," alert - one step below the highest level.
The U.S. government banned all liquids and gels from flights, including toothpaste, makeup, and suntan lotion. Baby formula and medicines were exempted.
Chertoff said the alleged plot appeared to be engineered by al-Qaida, the terrorist group that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attack against the United States.
"It was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was international in scope," said Chertoff. "It was in some respects suggestive of an al-Qaida plot."
He added, however, that "because the investigation is still underway we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion."
Chertoff said the plotters were in the final stages of planning before execution. "We were really getting quite close to the execution phase," he said. He said it was unclear whether the alleged plot was linked to the upcoming fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 strikes.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the operation could "potentially kill hundreds of innocent people." Britain said 21 people had been arrested, including the alleged "main players" in the plot.
FBI Director Robert Mueller also pointed at al-Qaida. "This had the earmarks of an al-Qaida plot," he said.
Chertoff said the plotters envisioned multiple explosions in multiple aircraft.