US on edge: 2 big scares in 24 hours

Port evacuated on fears of explosives cargo; woman disrupts flight.

THE United States remains on edge with two major terrorist scares in 24 hours.

The authorities vacated a container terminal in Seattle Port on Wednesday following suspicions about two containers from Pakistan.

This came just hours after a Washington-bound United Airlines flight was diverted to Boston because of an unruly female passenger.

Reflecting acute concerns that the US could face another devastating terrorist attack, the authorities are putting in place a slew of measures to thwart another 9/11.

Seattle, with one of North America’s largest container terminals, came under heavy scrutiny after bomb-sniffing dogs indicated that two containers could contain explosives.

Customs and Border Protection agents first became suspicious when an initial examination of the containers showed their contents did not match the manifest.

They immediately evacuated dozens of workers and set up a 600m perimeter around part of the city’s port.

But further investigation found no explosives or chemical or biological agents, only clothes and used textiles.

The port resumed operations on Wednesday evening, more than six hours after the severe disruption at the terminal, which serves more than 20 steamship lines and receives more than 40 vessels each month.

Drama on the ground was matched by a mid-air crisis.

A 59-year-old American woman panicking from claustrophobia caused an emergency landing of Flight 923 from London in Boston.

Passengers said she was unruly for much of the flight, refusing to sit and repeatedly trying to get into the toilet.

Federal and airline officials discounted initial reports that she was carrying prohibited items or that she had a notebook containing references to Al-Qaeda. The authorities said the woman had lotion and matches with her. They said the lotion, but not the matches, was prohibited on the plane.

The incident occurred less than a week after British officials foiled a plot to detonate liquid explosives on transatlantic flights. This prompted new restrictions on carry-on luggage and heightened alerts on flights to the US. Measures were also being considered to make it difficult for terrorists to strike.

Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff revealed that airline passengers would soon have their names checked against the US “no-fly” list before flights take off for the US.

The requirement, resisted by the airline industry for fear of costly delays, could be in place by next year.

Currently, airlines have to submit their passenger lists for international flights 15 minutes after take-off.

Mr Chertoff said in an interview with Associated Press on Monday: “We haven’t moved this because the airlines were concerned about what (to) do about (late) passengers; they don’t want to hold the flights up.

“Our position has been: Isn’t it better to know before the plane takes off than to turn the plane around?”

Besides this, Mr Chertoff is also keen to federalise contract workers – especially security screening officials – who are the first line of defence against terrorists. They would be given additional training in behavioural profiling.

The plan is to have hundreds of behaviour detection officers trained by the end of next year.

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